This year, Hoosier farmers planted more than one million acres of cover crops, up from virtually none in 2004.
Farmers grow cover crops — like rye, alfalfa, or sorghum — in the winter to protect and enhance soil health. Shannon Zezula, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s state resource conservationist for Indiana, says more farmers are planting them now because they work.
“As a USDA employee, I can talk to farmers all day about what they should do,” says Zezula. “But when another farmer says ‘Hey, this is what I did on my farm and it worked real well,’ that resonates very loudly.”
Planting cover crops costs about $30 an acre, and there’re a lot of other things farmers could do with that money.
But Zezula says cover crops pay off in the long run. They help keep nutrients in the soil, which, he says, is one of the most important things farmers can do to protect their fields over the winter.
Zezula says planting cover crops and adopting no-till practices protects that biodiversity by preventing soil erosion and keeping nutrients in the field.
“There’s more life in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth,” Zezula says.