The Natural Resources Defense Council is suggesting the federal government could have avoided paying out more than a billion dollars to cover crop losses in Indiana after last year’s devastating drought.
The Federal Crop Insurance Program paid Hoosier farmers more than $1.1 billion to cover 2012’s crop losses, which is the fifth highest amount provided to one state last year.
A Natural Resources Defense Council report suggests some of those losses could have been prevented if more farmers used practices that promote soil health.
NRDC analyst Claire O’Connor says those things include no-till farming, which allows underground life that benefits soil to go undisturbed, and cover crops – crops grown in the off season chiefly for soil health. O’Connor says, in addition to healthier soil, those practices save money.
“When you switch to no-till, you don’t have to do as many trips around the field and so you reduce your fuel costs immediately and as far as cover crops go, and additionally with no-till, once you start building that healthy, resilient soil you reduce the input costs that you have,” he says.
Purdue University tillage specialist Tony Vyn says, while practices like cover crops and no-till do promote greater soil health, increased usage would likely have made little difference to Indiana farmers during last year’s drought.
“States like Illinois beside us that had a different timing and intensity of the drought had better yields even though they had a lower adoption of no-till in their corn and in their soybean production,” he says.
Vyn says there i no’t one simple solution to improving soil health. A combination of practices, including greater crop rotation, all contribute to healthier soil.