GOSHEN — According to the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, there has been a large increase in the number of farmers using cover crops in Indiana. Known for their environmental benefits, Indiana farmers have planted more than one million acres of cover crops in Indiana in 2018, covering 32,000 more acres than the previous year, the state agricultural department said.

Cover crops, which are crops (usually wheat) planted alongside crops being harvested, are used to keep soil in place and prevent dirty runoff drainage. Using cover crops also lowers the cost of fertilizer and heavy machinery.

New Paris resident, Keith Miller has farmed since the spring of 1972 and is a strong advocate of cover crops and no-till farming.

“I have been using cover crops and no-till farming since 1973. I just wish I would’ve started sooner.” Miller said.

No-till farming is when the farmer does not use a plow or disc harrow to turn up the soil. The object is to minimally disturb the soil when planting.

Of Miller’s 350-acre farm, he practices no-till and cover crop farming on approximately 270 acres of the farm, where he has planted corn and soybeans. Miller expects both the soybeans and the corn to do well this year, despite the lack of dry weather. He attributes this year’s successful crops to his use of no-till and cover crop farming.

According to Miller, no-till farming and cover crops produce long-term benefits. It is also significantly cheaper to farm using cover crops, as less equipment is needed.

“It’s just a great way to farm.” Miller said.

Speaking of no-till farming in particular, Jeff Burbrink, Purdue Extension agricultural and natural resources educator, said that applying both the cover crop and no-till concepts to farming helps to keep organic matter in the fields and prevents dirty and muddy runoff drainage.

According to Burbrink, runoff drainage from farms often filter into large bodies of water, and can cause a build-up of silt and mud.

“Cover crops and no-till farming makes the agricultural system more sustainable.” Burbrink said.

Ben Gavelek, communications director for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, stated that since 2011, statewide cover crop adoption has increased 434 percent.

According to a report from the Elkhart County Soil and Water Conservation District, more than 10,000 farmers have used cover crops this season. Recently, Elkhart County has implemented incentive programs to get more farmers to explore no-till and cover crop farming.

In Elkhart County, there has been a huge increase in the number of farmers using crop covers and no-till farming. Since 2016, crop cover adoption alone has increased more than 50 percent, according to a study conducted by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.

“Cover crops and no-till farming are a really big deal. It affects people living in rural and suburban areas. Everyone should care about this.” Miller said.

Camden Chaffee can be reached at camden.chaffee@goshnnews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 314.

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