The fall harvest has finally wrapped up in Indiana, putting an end to a year that tested the willpower of farmers throughout our region. In addition to ongoing economic challenges, it was officially the wettest year on record. U.S. farmers couldn’t plant more than 19 million waterlogged acres, the majority of which were in the Midwest.
Amid all these troubles, there are still areas of hope for the agriculture sector, and that’s why I’m on Capitol Hill this week.
The bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, co-chaired by Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Chris Coons (D-Conn.), is hosting a briefing about agriculture’s role in climate change solutions, and I was invited to talk about conservation practices that are good for farm profitability, soil health and climate resilience.
My family and I have planted cover crops for more than 19 years and avoided tilling our soil for more than 30 years, so I know from firsthand experience how effective conservation practices like these can be for the environment and the bottom line.
Cover crops are plants like rye and oats that are planted after the cash crop harvest to protect the soil in the winter. They provide a myriad of benefits to farmers, including reduced costs for fertilizers and healthier soil that maintains yields. In the past few years, cover crops have increased my farm’s profits per acre by an estimated $58 annually, and analysis by accounting firm K·Coe Isom and Environmental Defense Fund found that other grain farmers also see financial benefits from these practices.
Keeping living roots in the soil year-round is also a critical climate solution. While there’s still debate about exactly how much carbon can be sequestered in soils through practices like cover crops, there’s strong scientific consensus that healthy soil is an essential part of adapting to a wetter future. Boosting soil health reduces soil erosion, slows water runoff and increases farms’ ability to stay productive in the face of more extreme and variable weather. These proven results aren’t just good for farmers — they are important for neighboring communities that benefit from reduced runoff, and for consumers who benefit from a more stable food supply.
This year, my family couldn’t plant 20% of our planned corn acres because heavy rains kept us out of the fields during the planting window. We decided to plant those fields with cover crops because the soil health gains outweigh the planting costs. It was a business decision with bonus environmental benefits.
Aligning near-term and long-term stewardship and profitability goals gives me hope when things are tough. Farmers have had so many challenges thrown at us recently, from weather woes to trade wars, but we’re determined to keep going and to be part of the solution.
Conservation practices like cover crops make our farms and soils more resilient so that we can ride out the highs and lows of situations that are outside of our control.