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Cover crops now third to only corn and soybeans in Indiana

Lowell farmer Dan Sutton plants a cover crop — in this field, oats — during harvest to help avoid soil erosion over the winter months.

Indiana farmers, who recently started putting their spring crops in the ground, planted nearly a million acres of cover crops last year, which are grown as a bridge between production crops like corn or soybeans in order to protect and enrich the soil.

“With the late harvest and heavy rains farmers experienced last fall, seeing close to one million acres of cover crops growing is no small accomplishment and worth celebrating,” said Jill Reinhart, acting state conservationist for Indiana’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “This year’s data shows that Indiana once again sets the bar, nationally, when it comes to incorporating conservation on the farm.”

In 2017, farmers across the Hoosier state grew a total 970,000 acres of cover crops, preventing an estimated 2.9 million pounds of nitrogen, 1.4 million pounds of phosphorus and 1.2 million tons of sediment from seeping into local streams and waterways, according to the Indiana Department of Agriculture. That amount of sediment, which would otherwise have run off the farm, taking nutrients from the soil, could fill 12,000 train cars.

Sutton Farms in Lowell has been planting cover crops on its 1,200 acres since 2008 to benefit the environment and the soil.

“We found in 2009 a pretty good yield increase on those cover cropped acres,” Lowell farmer Dan Sutton said. “That turned a light bulb on, and we said, 'Hey, let’s look into this more and see what we can do with it.'"

Cover crops have taken off so much in popularity in Indiana that they're now the third-most plant crop after corn and soybeans. The National Resources Conservation Service stresses the practice results in better water filtration, improved soil biology and increased organic matter.

“Farmers continue to recognize the importance and are finding value in planting cover crops,” Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director Bruce Kettler said. “Keeping more nutrients on the land not only improves soil health and water quality, but also a farmer’s bottom line.”


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.