During National Ag Week, we pause to celebrate the many farmers, ranchers and foresters working hard to grow the food, fuel and fiber that sustain each and every one of us.
Mark Anson is one such farmer. Meet Anson, and learn how he’s used soil health practices such as no-till and cover crops to revitalize his family’s 20,000 acre corn and soybeans operation in Monroe City, Indiana.
A Farming Family
Mark Anson was on the verge of calling it quits a few years ago. “My soil had gotten to the point where we could raise 130 bushel of corn on dirt because of genetics and technology, but when we were done planting I got this feeling inside that it wasn’t worth it,” recalls Anson. “It was like we were farming a gravel road.”
Anson is a fourth-generation farmer in Monroe City, Indiana. Alongside his family, Anson grows corn and soybeans across a 20,000-acre operation. The Ansons have long used USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation practices. Despite rotating crops and practicing minimal tillage – even no-till on one of their farms – Anson felt it wasn’t enough. For him, farming had become too stressful, too expensive and too time consuming.
“I felt as though I was farming dead hard soil,” says Anson. “I was sick of it and it had to stop.”
A Call to Soil Health
After hearing NRCS soil health experts speak at a conference, Anson developed a new outlook on farming.
“I realized I was destroying our life because I was destroying my soil, but more importantly I realized that I could do something about it,” says Anson.
In the fall of 2011, the Anson family agreed to give soil health practices a try. With the assistance of the Farm Bill’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, they planted a few acres of cover crops on fields with the most stress. Then they converted to a 100 percent no-till operation and switched from spring applied anhydrous ammonia to liquid nitrogen with the application of turkey manure on below-average soils.
Now, 15,000 of Anson’s 20,000-acre operation are planted in cover crops. Anson is also using over 11 thousand tons of turkey litter each year to add diversity to the soil’s biology.
“Obtaining soil health makes farming easier,” says Anson. “Once we began to use soil health management principles my stress level went away—almost immediately. Even with challenges to overcome, I found I was having fun just by farming with nature. Looking back, I wish I had never tilled the land.”
Conservation and Economic Gains
When asked what the most satisfying result of working towards healthy soil is, Anson talks about how excited everyone was to see clearer water coming off their land in such a short time after stopping tillage and incorporating cover crops. Anson Family Farms has also seen significant economic gains as a results of managing for soil health.
Demonstration plots are showing a thirty-bushel increase on cover cropped areas. Cover crops and no-till adoption also helped Anson decrease fuel consumption and lower his use of inputs like fertilizer and fungicides.
Paying it Forward
Anson is dedicated to sharing his experiences to help other farmers overcome challenges they may face when adopting soil health practices. The Anson family currently works with over 110 landowners to help them understand what soil health management means to the long-term sustainability and productivity of their own fields. Anson is also dedicated to teaching the next generation of farmers about the importance of building healthy, resilient soils.
“We are blessed in southwest Indiana with great soil,” Anson says. “We’re also blessed with huge technological advancements in equipment, management systems, seeds, chemicals and much more. It’s a choice that every farmer is faced with – do I farm the way my grandfathers farmed or do I use the God-given abilities to change to be in harmony with Mother Nature. We are on a journey with NRCS to improve our land and leave our soil in a healthier state than we received from our forefathers.”
To read more about the economics of soil health, please visit our The Dollars and Cents of Soil Health: A Farmer’s Perspective blog. Visit the NRCS website to learn more about voluntary conservation programs for your working lands.