Seeing the ChangeBy Emily Keiser on Tuesday, 13 August, 2019
Carrie Vollmer-Sanders of Angola, Indiana, and her husband, Ryan, were using cover crops for nearly three years before deciding they wanted to take a more “all in” approach to soil health. After hearing about the Soil Health Partnership (SHP) and the program’s focus on the benefits behind sustainability practices, they decided SHP was a perfect partner for their farm.
“We were curious about the data that was being collected and SHP helped us to learn about the benefits of investing in cover crops to help improve soil health,” said Carrie.
Before joining SHP, Carrie and Ryan were only testing cover crops in small strips on a few fields, never committing fields entirely. Now, the only soil without cover crops is what is being used as a control strip to test the impact of cover crops and compare soil types.
Weed suppression has improved significantly in Carrie’s fields since using more intensive cover cropping.
“We have been able to really cut back on our use of herbicides because of the good weed suppression the cover crops provide and taking up the space the invasive weeds need to get a good establishment,” Carrie said.
“We have also seen an increased aggregate stability in our soils along with the increased organic matter. We had to plant green for the first time last year on a field that wasn’t dry enough to terminate beforehand. It planted really well and we had really good luck with it; that prepared us well for this year.”
Cover crops have allowed the duo to see many benefits and they have made changes to their operation to continue to implement these practices.
“In order for cover crops to work, the operation has to be all in,” said Carrie. “The intensity of soil sampling on the fields involved with SHP partner sites is not for the faint of heart.”
Ryan and Carrie farm with Carrie’s parents. The implementation of cover crops has magnified the consideration they must give to their farming management planning and practices.
“A real breakthrough for us was this spring when my dad came to Ryan and I and asked us about finding a way to get cover crops onto our prevent plant acres,” said Carrie. “With the benefits not being obvious the first few years, my parents were reluctant to plant cover crops on too many acres. They now see the need for cover crops and finding ways to make them work in the tough years.”
“The program (SHP) has really grown over the last five years,” said Carrie, “going from a one-man show to full staff, SHP has kicked it up three notches and improved 110 percent since we first got involved five years ago. It takes time for the data to evolve but with the help of SHP, it’s a great way to learn more about the benefits of soil health.”
The Soil Health Partnership (SHP) is celebrating its fifth anniversary as a farmer-led initiative fostering transformation in agriculture through improved soil health. SHP has grown from 17 active farms in 2014 to 220 active farms in 2019. SHP represents around 6,000 acres, spans across 15 states and partners with over 100 organizations at the federal, state and county levels. Join us as we reflect on the past five years and celebrate the opportunities ahead!