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Purdue on the Farm

When it comes to improving soil health on Indiana cropland, it takes a village — or at the very least, a partnership.

The Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative (CCSI), an 11-year-old outreach and education program of the Indiana Conservation Partnership, brings together eight agencies and organizations, including Purdue Extension, that share a commitment to conservation in Indiana.

We like to say the practices we promote are science-based and farmer-proven.

- CCSI Director, Lisa Holscher

Its partnership with CCSI aligns with Extension’s Purdue On The Farm program, which connects Purdue Extension with its clients and partners through four activities — survey, field monitoring, demonstration, and on-farm research. 

CCSI offers a Purdue-based curriculum ranging from introductory soil health to advanced training on timely topics. CCSI staff also support the partnership behind the scenes, “freeing up a partner to do their work as a local Extension agriculture and natural resources educator, or a Soil and Water Conservation District technician or a NRCS district conservationist,” Holscher says. “We work across partners, and we all work together.”

CCSI hired its former agronomist Joe Rorick in 2015 through Purdue agronomy. Rorick is now the on-farm sustainability research and project coordinator for the Indiana Soybean Alliance (ISA) and Indiana Corn Marketing Council, and a member of CCSI’s oversight committee. His former role as CCSI agronomist and his current position are both part of Purdue Extension.

Joe Rorick points out a plant nodule at farmer Dave Brandt’s cover crop field.Rorick calls the CCSI partnership a “trifecta” that benefits everyone. “CCSI draws on resources available from all of the partners to deliver effective programming while helping all of those partners do what they do better,” he says. “Purdue brings the science and communication. The ISA and Corn Marketing Council bring the farmers and funding for a fair amount of the research and on-farm programs. CCSI applies the science to improve soil health on Indiana cropland.” This level of cooperation, he adds, is far from common.

Another segment of Purdue On the Farm, on-farm demonstrations, allows Purdue Extension to engage directly with producers in areas they’re interested in, says John Scott, digital agriculture Extension coordinator. 

Scott has been involved in on-farm demonstrations in the 10 north-central Indiana counties of the Wabash Heartland Innovation Network (WHIN). The result was a shared report that allows producers to see what’s taking place on nearby farm operations.

The work has put Scott on a tractor with a producer using a propane tank to flame-weed between rows of blue corn; and on a farm where the grower’s own experimentation with seeding rates and late season fungicide application produced unanticipated results leading to changes in management practices and a closer relationship between the producer and Extension.

"Most of our farmers want to try new things,” he says. “They want to know, ‘How is it actually going to perform for me on my farm – this management style, hybrid, product or type of equipment?’ Our goal is to plug in. All we ask in exchange is that we can use what we learn for Extension purposes."

Scott emphasizes that these demonstrations do not produce publishable results; however, he thinks they can inform scientific research. “As we get more insight as to what our producers are interested in for their operations, I hope that helps lead to increased research in the areas where we’re seeing producer curiosity,” he says.

Another part of Purdue on the Farm already produces on-farm, university-grade research. “If a farmer asks for Purdue’s help in implementing a research trial, we’re there every step of the way,” says Dan Quinn, assistant professor of agronomy and Extension corn specialist. Many of Quinn’s Purdue graduate students conduct research on farmers’ fields. 

“Being able to work with farmers and on farms makes our research more robust and accurate and helps drive our extension,” he says, noting that a research trial on 20 farms around the state is going to attract more attention than one small-plot experiment.

"It also helps the farmers,” Quinn says. “Doing research on their farm drives home the importance of that research in helping them make better decisions."

For example, Quinn has had farmers tell him they’d never change a certain practice — until he shared the results of trials on their own fields.

When Quinn started in his position, Holscher introduced him to farmers around the state. “Both CCSI and Indiana Corn do a good job of helping us get in touch with the right folks,” Quinn says. “They support us in the research area, too, whether on the conservation side or the production side.”


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