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Long-term challenges include protecting the environment and producing food.

Long-term challenges include protecting the environment and producing food.

Indiana’s producers will face two major challenges over the next few years, in addition to daily and seasonal challenges. The first is that food, fibre and fuel must be produced in sufficient amounts to feed and provide products for a growing populace. The second challenge for farmers is the growing environmental issues, such as the hypoxic zone of the Gulf of Mexico or the algal blooms of Lake Erie.

American farmers excel in producing high-quality agricultural products that are nutritious and rich in fiber, fuel, and food. Over the past few decades, technology has dramatically improved corn yields. But can technology continue to improve yields to offset growing demand and decreasing farmland?

Many of the environmental problems that are caused by nutrients can be traced back to soil erosion and water quality issues in agricultural land. Although farming is not the sole contributor to the problem it is a part of the problem. The agriculture industry must confront the problem in a proactive way.

Tackle ag challenges

How can farmers be proactive in tackling these issues? How can they tackle both of these challenges simultaneously?

The answer lies under the soil’s surface. This will make it more productive, resilient, efficient, and water-quality-wise, as well as reduce soil erosion.

Farmers discovered a few simple principles that can help improve soil health on cropland as well as pastureland. These principles are what?

Simply put, stop tilling the soil. Increase diversity, keep a growing root alive as long as possible, and keep the soil surface protected.

While they may not seem complicated, the most important thing to remember is that all of them must be implemented together to improve soil health. You can learn from others who have made it work in your region to help you develop a solid plan but be flexible. Flexibility is essential. While you may fail, you can still start a journey towards soil health and continue moving forward.

These concepts, together with a solid nutrient-management plan, will help reduce the amount of nutrients and sediment reaching our waterways. These concepts will help to build healthy soil that is resilient to changes in weather conditions. They will also help produce high-quality products with lower inputs. This can lead to greater long-term profits. If commercial input costs remain high, these efficiencies will be even more important.

Adopt and adapt

These soil health systems will test your management skills. These systems are possible and necessary to change the paradigm of farming in the 21st Century. What is your role in this new paradigm of farming?

While the future can be scary, it can also be very exciting for young farmers, who will be part of the next great revolution within American agriculture history.

For more information about the development of a soil system health system on your farm, please contact the local soil and water conservation district.

Donovan works as a district conservationist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He writes for the Indiana Conservation Partnership.

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