Indiana farmer discusses importance of sustainability on Earth Day

Everyday is Earth Day to the farmers feeding the world while also protecting land and water.

Aaron Chalfant raises corn, soybeans, and hogs with his dad and two brothers in east central Indiana.

“We have a 50/50 corn and soybean rotation, and we raise hogs on contract. We have about 28,000 head on site that produce about 7 million gallons of manure annually, so we use that to reduce the input cost on raising corn and soybeans,” he says.

The fourth-generation farmer says sustainability is critical to any agricultural operation.  

“If you’re not sustainable, if you’re not being good stewards of the ground, there’s not going to be a whole lot of opportunity left for the next generation,” he says. “We try to do our best not just to be profitable, but also to be good stewards of the ground. That’s our motto and I think that’s the motto for the vast majority of producers.”

Chalfant, an Indiana Farm Bureau member from Randolph County, says they’re able to be more productive and sustainable by testing manure and soil.

“We know what it’s going to take to raise a good crop, and with knowing the analysis and how many pounds of nitrogen, phosphate, potash, and all the micronutrients that we’re getting in a thousand gallons of manure, we can adjust those rates, have yield goals, and get out and apply the manure at agronomic levels.”

He says farmers are continually making changes on their operation based on the latest research and technology innovation.

“Land Grant Universities are coming out with new research. Our Land Grant in Indiana is Purdue University. So many farmers look to Purdue each year to see what’s coming down the pike, how can we build organic matter in soil, and how can we keep topsoil where it is so we can keep producing good yields. Farmers change year-in and year-out to adapt to the new production methods and it’s not just for corn and soybeans. When we go out and dragline manure, it’s with a big 600-horsepower pump getting 2500 gallons a minute. We’re dropping it in a slot and because we have a minimal tillage toolbar you can’t tell that we’ve been out there when we’re done. All that manure is covered up in the ground. They’re making this equipment that’s not just environmentally friendly, but it’s also good for productivity.”

It also allows farmers to do more with less.

“The technology and innovation that is getting adopted on farms across the Corn Belt and Midwest is changing, and farmers are using it and producing more with less,” he says.

On Earth Day, Indiana Farm Bureau, the state’s largest general farm organization, is celebrating the land and everything Hoosier farmers do to protect it.

INFB President Randy Kron, a southern Indiana farmer, says farmers have been protecting the land for generations and sustainability and efficiency go hand-in-hand in agriculture.

“Hoosier farmers are improving efficiency and promoting healthy soil by planting cover crops to replenish nutrients and hold down topsoil,” Kron says. “They also adopt practices that reduce and, in some cases, eliminate the need for tilling—or plowing the soil – so nutrients stay locked-in.”

Data from the Indiana Agriculture Nutrient Alliance shows that while the national adoption rate of cover crops and reduced or no-tillage is around 10%, Indiana farmers have adopted those practices at the highest rate in the Midwest. The number grew from 200,000 acres with living green cover in 2011 to 1.5 million acres in 2021.

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Audio: Aaron Chalfant

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