What is in this article?:
- Local farmers, local soils is one byword of an Indiana farmer group meeting to brainstorm farming problems and network.
- The group compares notes on cover crops and vertical tillage in continuous corn.
- Spin off: A similar group in Idaho found that bankers began to understand the agronomics of no-till and realized these networking low-tillers were much lower risks for loans than the conventional tillers, says its organizer.
Formalized coffee-shop group
The group is more formal than a coffee shop group, with organized discussion topics and guest speakers. Perkins organized the group in northwest Indiana in January 2011 with the goal of increasing no-till acres and cover-crop use in Indiana.
Meetings are primarily during the winter months and are a mix of formal discussion and informal conversation, which allow members to build relationships while gaining and sharing information. Most members of the group practice no-till, but Perkin said several long-time conventional tillers come to meetings to learn more about how no-till works in their county.
“The guys like each other and trust each other. I know they talk to each other outside of our meetings,” says Perkins, who organizes meetings, researches topics and lines up speakers.
One supporter of the peer group meetings in Indiana is Hans Kok, coordinator of the IndianaConservation Cropping Systems Initiative, who ran similar peer groups when he was an Extension officer in Idaho. He says the groups work because “farmers really trust farmers more than anyone else. “The whole strength of these groups is that they are self-selecting,” he says. “The ones we had in Idaho and Washington were simply amazing. We had farmers drive three hours over slippery roads to get to a 7 a.m. meeting. The worse the weather was, the more people would show up.”
In Idaho, the groups formed to get like-minded farmers together, he says, particularly direct seeders. The farmers were often new to no-till and didn’t want to make the same mistakes that others had. But the positive benefits quickly became more than just agronomic.
A core group of 30-40 farmers would come to the meetings. As word spread, local bankers started showing up and often bought breakfast for the group. “The bankers began to understand the agronomics of no-till and realized these guys were much lower risks for loans than the conventional guys. That was one of the most important spin-offs we had,” Kok says.
“Local information is much more powerful than generic information. That is the strength of these groups. Local farmers, local soils.”