Farmer Report – The ROI of Conservation Tillage

Derek Thompson, a Noble County Farmer and NRCS District Conservationist, shared about life on the farm and the return on investment of incorporating conservation practices onto his operation in an interview with the Allen County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Thompson is a third generation farmer of a 1,000-acre grain and dairy farm. His family’s conservation journey started in the ’70s when his father tried out a no-till corn planter from the Noble County SWCD. Although not lead adopters, the Thompson family now incorporates no-till and VRT soil management into all their acreage because of their return on investment, time savings, and the pride that comes with restoring the soil and the land. Their other conservation practices include sidedressing nitrogen, buffers along ditches, grass waterways, cover crops, and planting green.

Although being a District Conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has played a role in the farm’s conservation journey, Thompson believes they would have still ended up exactly where they are even without his involvement with NRCS.

Watch the full interview below!

Are You Smarter than a 1st Grader?

Soil testing is a valuable way for farmers, gardeners, and those with lawns to know what nutrients are already available in their soil, as well as what nutrients should be added. Not knowing what is already available in your soil, makes it easy to over-apply or under-apply fertilizers. Over application can cause negative impacts on water quality if runoff transfers the excess nutrients to waterways. Having too few nutrients in your soil can impede plant growth.

No matter what you’re growing, getting a soil test is important!

On Friday, May 14th, the Allen County SWCD and Purdue Extension partnered to teach soil testing to the first grade students at Washington Elementary School in downtown Fort Wayne. The students did an excellent job listening!

James Wolff from Purdue Extension and Joelle Neff & Ben Taylor from the Allen County SWCD demonstrating soil testing and soil textures to the 1st grad class at Washington Elementary School.

The class learned the importance of getting a soil test. Their faces lit up as they answered questions about how we can protect our water systems by keeping excess nutrients out of them. Excitement filled the school grounds as teachers, students and agency staff chose different locations to collect soil samples from. Each student was able to pick a spot from which to collect a sample.

Soil testing in groups around Washington Elementary School’s property.

The first graders not only learned about soil testing, but they also learned about the different textures of soil. The students got to feel examples of sand, silt, and clay, as well as play a game that taught them the different properties of these textures. Sand is the largest particle with lots of surface area. It feels course when rubbed between your fingers. It allows for good drainage and doesn’t hold water or nutrients very well. Silt is the medium-sized particle. It feels smooth like baking flour when wet. It doesn’t stick together, so it still has good drainage, but it is small enough to hold water and nutrients. Clay is the smallest soil texture. It sticks together when wet giving it a sticky texture. Much of the soil in Northeast Indiana has a heavy clay content. Clay does not drain water easily, sometimes remaining waterlogged and causing root rot in plants. On the other hand, clay soils are excellent at holding nutrients.

If you knew all this, congrats! You are smarter than a first grader, but don’t stop there! Keep learning about Conservation Practices like soil testing.

This demonstration was sponsored by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through our Urban and Small Farms Program. The USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

Live from Avilla

On April 13th, 2021, Derek Thompson, a local farmer and NRCS District Conservationist, shared his experience with no-till farming at Live from Avilla. This live, virtual event was designed to demonstrate the equipment modification necessary for a no-till operation. By taking a close-up look at Thompson’s planter, all thirteen participants learned what to pay attention to and what adjustments are necessary in this kind of system.

Thompson gave great advise for farmers who have not done much no-till but are interested in trying it. He suggested starting small. Throwing all your eggs in one basket may lead to frustration and disappointment. Asking lots of question to those around you that have no-till experience can help you avoid certain mistakes and can give you more opportunity for success.

Live from Avilla was sponsored by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) through the Urban and Small Farms Program. The USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

SWCC Prescribed Burn Workshop

The Allen County SWCD along with the Southwest Conservation Club (SWCC), Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Indiana DNR, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service partnered for a prescribed burn workshop. This workshop informed attendees about wildlife habitat and the various ways to manage it. It also gave a basis on who to contact, what permits are necessary, what to do in an urban situation, and what equipment is necessary to perform a prescribed burn.

Due to the inclement weather, we were unable to do a live demonstration of the burn, but attendees were still able to go outside and learn techniques and dive into the equipment. Both Jessica Merkling with InDNR and Ryan Owen with Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, and the NRCS, did an amazing job presenting and gave great insight into performing a burn.

The SWCC Prescribed Burn Workshop was the first hybrid event that the Allen County SWCD had ever done, meaning it was both in person and virtual. We learned a lot through this event, and we’re looking forward to improve ourselves in both virtual and in-person events.

Below is the recording of this workshop. If you’re interested in doing a burn on your property, this is a great place to start!

2020 River Boat Tours Prove to Be Successful

This fall, the Allen County SWCD and the Maumee Watershed Alliance had numerous opportunities to give tours of Fort Wayne’s three rivers – the St. Mary’s, the St. Joseph’s, and the Maumee. These tours were designed to educate both farmers and urbanites on the importance of water quality and the part everyone plays in maintaining and improving the water quality around Allen County. Greg Lake, the Allen Co. SWCD Director, and Dan Wire, an Associate SWCD Board Member and Maumee Watershed Alliance Member, expressed how important it is to get people on the water. According to Dan Wire, “When people get on the river, they realize it’s not as bad as they thought.” Riding the river also gives an understanding of the programs already in place to improve and maintain water quality and the opportunities to get involved.

The Allen County SWCD even had the chance to give a tour to both Tom Bechman, the editor for the Indiana Prairie Farmer, and Jerry Raynor, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist. Dan Wire and Greg Lake shared about the programs that improve water quality locally, and Jerry Raynor spoke about what is happening statewide in the promotion of conservation. Tom Bechman wrote several stories about his trip to Allen County and published them in the October 2020 issue of the Indiana Prairie Farmer. Now the message of water quality is being spread across Indiana.

Take a look at these articles written by Tom Bechman from his visit to Allen County!

https://www.farmprogress.com/conservation/ag-urban-groups-both-need-clean-water

https://www.farmprogress.com/conservation/what-water-monitoring-project-reveals-about-water-quality

https://www.farmprogress.com/conservation/science-behind-stream-monitoring-water-quality

https://www.farmprogress.com/commentary/huntington-university-turns-out-quality-ag-graduates

GLRI-USGS Edge of Field Project

GLRI-USGS Edge of Field Project

January 2021

An update on the SWCD and USGS partnership: Edge of Field Project. This project collaborates with local farmers to collect water samples for an estimate five years to measure nutrients, sediment, and other critical elements for USGS research.

In January 2021, the SWCD staff were trained how to collect samples and send the collection and other information to USGS. Information is collected and sent after significant rain/snow fall events when water has entered the systems.

The systems are built on the land of cooperating landowners and farmers, at no cost to the farmer. USGS incurs all of the installation costs and other necessary elements. USGS is always looking for new sites to host these Edge of Field sites. Contact our office if you would like more information about this project.

A water sample collected from a tile in Grabill, Indiana. These samples were packaged and sent to Wisconsin for processing.