One reason soil conservation efforts in Indiana have been successful is the cooperation among various partners interested in conservation through the years. Not all states enjoy this kind of cooperation.
Jane Hardisty, former Indiana state soil conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, just retired after 17 years in this role. She was instrumental in making sure NRCS often led the way in promoting no-till, cover crops, water quality and soil health. Her efforts helped Indiana become one of the leading two states in cover crop use and soil health promotion nationwide.
New group formed
Less than a month before retiring, Hardisty helped make one more new conservation initiative possible. Under her leadership, NRCS partnered with Indiana Farm Bureau through an agreement to create the Indiana Agriculture Nutrient Alliance.
IANA was announced at the IFB state convention in December, and Hardisty and others believe it has the potential to make major contributions to expanding Indiana’s conservation efforts to new levels.
The primary purpose of the new group is improved nutrient use efficiency and reduced nutrient loss from farmland. “It will improve water quality, and it will allow farmers to continue to maintain control of their operations,” Hardisty told the IFB state convention audience.
Hardisty credits many Indiana partners with already carrying out tremendous programs, including the Division of Soil Conservation within the Indiana State Department of Agriculture; local soil and water conservation districts and their state organization, the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts; and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources with its Healthy Rivers Program.
Besides these groups, Indiana’s Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative, led by Lisa Holscher, has helped demonstrate the importance of getting soil conservation practices on the ground. Special alliances in northeast Indiana have increased awareness of the importance of maintaining water quality in the Lake Erie Watershed.
Still a need
Despite all these efforts, there is still evidence that nutrients reach waterways. David Baker, longtime water quality expert at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio, recently told certified crop advisers gathered in Indianapolis that nutrients, especially dissolved phosphorus, still find their way into waterways, especially at key times during the year.
Many groups have promoted the 4R approach for fertilizer application, which translates to right source, right rate, right time and right place. Baker has seen evidence indicating that in no-till fields, part of the problem may be that phosphorus is stratified in the soil, with high levels in the first few inches. One solution he discusses is a one-time return to deep tillage to get phosphorus off the surface, followed by a return to no-till.
That concept would make many conservation supporters bristle, with several insisting that one tillage pass can destroy whatever has been gained in soil health. Obviously, it’s not an area where there is clear agreement.
Enter IANA in Indiana. “We believe a group focused on reducing nutrient loss and improving water quality can help coordinate efforts of other groups and help the effort move forward,” Hardisty says.
The group will hire an executive director soon. Other Indiana groups besides NRCS and IFB supporting the effort include: Indiana Soybean Alliance, Indiana Corn Marketing Council, Indiana Pork, Indiana State Poultry Association, Indiana Dairy Producers, Indiana Beef Cattle Association, Indiana Agribusiness Council Inc.; American Dairy Association Inc., IASWCD, The Nature Conservancy, IASWCD and Purdue University College of Agriculture.
If this effort is successful, it may become yet another part of Hardisty’s legacy. Look to hear more about IANA soon.