INDIANAPOLIS — Keeping nitrogen and other nutrients on the
field and out of water sources is not only good for the environment, but also
for farmers financially.
The Indiana On-Farm Network is a group of crop producers who
are interested in conserving both financial and environmental resources. They do
that through data collection and analysis of different nitrogen management
“It’s a group of growers that use standardized protocols and
share data amongst themselves with the goal of really increasing nitrogen
efficiency and optimization,” explained Jordan Seger, director of the Division
of Soil Conservation at the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.
“It really comes down to utilizing the huge amounts of data
out there that we’re getting from the fields to better our management when it
comes to nutrients.”
Seger said the No. 1 objective is to improve on-farm
economics and farmers’ bottom line.
“If we are improving our nitrogen management, we could be
lessening nitrogen inputs, which will save us money,” he said.
“Within the groups, we identify the best management to keep
nitrogen on the fields for the crop to utilize and produce optimal yields. Then
it’s less prone to run off into our waterways. The primary objective is economic
benefits, but the secondary objective is environmental benefits.”
Seger described the meeting of business and the environment
as a sweet spot. Farmers can have both economic and environmental gains through
proper nutrient management decisions.
Several groups of farmers participate in the network
throughout Indiana. Each group contains about 10 to 20 farmers.
Not every county has a group, but the network has seen a
significant increase in the number of groups participating since its formation
“This year, we have 18 groups spread across the state,”
Seger said. “We have about 180 farmers participating in the program. Those 180
will enroll about 450 of their fields directly into the program. Those 450
fields directly account for about 40,000 acres of cropland, but the indirect
impacts are much greater as farmers implement what they learn across their whole
The farmers who participate are volunteers interested in
improving their soil health and conserving financial resources.
Partners from the Indiana Conservation Partnership and other
organizations support the network.
“They help contribute resources and manpower to support the
program and basically make the program no cost to farmers,” Seger said.
“The data collection, analysis and reports we give back to
farmers are currently zero cost to them because costs are covered by a federal
grant from the (U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation
Service) which is matched by Indiana Corn Marketing Council and Indiana Soybean
Alliance checkoff funds”
Examples of the data collected include cornstalk nitrate
tests, aerial imagery and replicated strip trials.
“We gather field management history, and we actually go and
pull cornstalk nitrate tests from all those fields,” Seger said. “We use aerial
imagery and GPS to guide where we go in and test. We also do a quite few
replicated strip trials.”
Based on the questions a farmer may have about nitrogen,
strip trials can be laid out to compare and contrast different nitrogen
management practices such as rate, form, timing and placement.
“With strip trials, we can look at yield data and calculate
the most economic nitrogen practice” the director said. “We might increase
yields with more nitrogen, but did the extra bushels actually pay for the extra
Seger said the network also can evaluate different forms of
nitrogen, both organic and inorganic, different timing and different placement
The evaluations are farmer driven and are conducted to
answer farmers’ questions. All information collected is made anonymous and
protected. The farmers determine how their data is used.
During the winter, each group of farmers and project
supporters gather to discuss the results of the year’s evaluations. Data
gathered on one field is useful, but the learning is amplified when data from
many fields in the same geographic area is aggregated together.
“I call it organized coffee shop talk supported by
technology and a diverse group of public and private sector partners,” Seger
“It’s amazing the kind of conversations we have when we get
all the farmers in a room and start going over the information. The aerial
imagery alone, we can talk for hours about. It’s a whole different way to see
For more information, visit www.in.gov/isda/ofn/about.htm or
contact Seger at firstname.lastname@example.org.