“Sullivan County, among many counties in Indiana, is getting a lot distinction for really being pro-cover crops,” she said.
The county’s 2016 acreage numbers include funding assistance by different programs:
• 2,155 (TTK Watershed 319 Cost-Share Program) • 961 (Clean Water Initiative) • 3,000 (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) • 300 (Lake and River Enhancement)
Those numbers could be going up, too, with the local TTK program having about $200,000 still available through 2019, according to Demarest.
“We have quite a bit of cost-share funding and are still promoting cover crops, among other conservation practices for the Turman Creek watershed and other areas in Sullivan County,” she said.”
According to the Indiana Watershed Initiative, cover crops include grasses, legumes and forbs planted for seasonal cover to protect the soil during critical erosion periods, especially winter storms and snowmelt. Benefits include improved soil health, hold water on agricultural fields and reduce leaching of excess fertilizer nutrients into tile drains.
Locally, the TTK cost-share program provides funding for cover crops, as well as critical area planting, forage and biomass planting and pasture seeding and prescribed grazing.
Other programs include 10-year vegetative practices, livestock practices, reduced nutrient and tillage, precision ag equipment and structural practices.
“I do hope (the cover crops program) is giving people a chance to kind of experiment,” Demarest said. “Combined with reduced tillage, good nutrient management, people are seeing a lot of benefit.”
Additional benefits include breaking up compaction, gain more organic matter and nitrogen holding.
Demarest admitted cover crops are not without their challenges.
“With these being relatively new practices, every year, we kind of get some feedback in the spring,” she said. “Sometimes these can be having trouble terminating the crop in the spring, making people nervous about their planting.
“It’s good for us to get feedback, if you do have a challenge or a bad time, don’t give up, come back in and talk to us. Let’s figure out how to work out those kinks. We learn from that too.”
Demarest noted farmers have started to lighten up on their seeding mixes, so instead of making like a carpet, which is difficult to terminate, they are still getting a lot of benefit that you can’t see under the ground.
“Glad to talk to people in the fall before planting, but we’re happy to talk people after they’ve planted,” she said. “We can give some guidance and help them troubleshoot a little better. We do learn each year.” A goal of the TTK program is to make cover crops sustainable.
“Someday, these grants may not be here anymore, so we want to take as much advantage of them as we can,” she said.
Demarest mentioned Caterpillar, a leading manufacturer of farm equipment, has taken an interest in Indiana, because of its being a leader in cover crops nationwide the last couple of years.
Because of this success, Caterpillar has offered a deal with several groups along the Wabash River.
“Cover crop acres we do in this area we submit it to Caterpillar, they will give money back to our district to fold back into more cost shares,” she said.
“That’s why we got the attention on this Caterpillar money,” Demarest said. “We’re doing pretty good. It’s a good thing. I like driving around seeing the extra green acres around. It’s impressive.”