Ken Rulon and his family are sold on crop production techniques that use advanced environmentally oriented practices to improve soil properties and ultimately generate profits. He and his family grow corn and soybeans and run a hog operation at Arcadia, IN. The operation, in the family since 1869, involves Ken, his brother Roy and cousin Rodney.

With the help of the federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and other conservation programs, most of their crops are no-tilled and feature a cover crop to prevent erosion and capture excess nutrients. EQIP helps reduce fertilizer inputs by offsetting manure injection into the soil before planting.

“EQIP makes making the right decision easier,” contends Rulon, stressing that it helps us reduce runoff and boost a “long-term carbon equation” that relates to producing more soil organic material.

EQIP is popular, says Kerry Smith, a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) district conservationist in Tipton County, IN. There are more than 46.1 million acres enrolled in EQIP programs nationwide in 2010.

The 92,000-plus contracts were receiving more than $2.56 billion in federal EQIP dollars to help farmers fund efforts to enhance soil, improve irrigation, promote better grazing and other conservation practices.

Rulon and others must use practices that meet NRCS technical standards adapted for local conditions. EQIP may provide payments up to 75% of the estimated incurred costs and income foregone of certain conservation practices and conservation activity plans.

“We are blessed to be in the right spot (for crop production), due to rich topsoil and good production climate,” Rulon says. “Our yields are seldom great, but they’re never bad. They’re consistent; a five-year average of 180.6 bu. for corn and 58.9 bu. for soybeans.”

However, since they went no-till nearly 20 years ago, those yields are still about 15% above the country average, the same difference that existed in 1992. No-till works because virtually all fields are tiled to promote drainage. “Laying tile fixes a field for 50-100 growing seasons,” Rulon says. “And we complement the tile program with EQIP payments.”

For the 400 acres in their EQIP-based program, the Rulons incorporate hog manure into their soil. “We use a Hydro no-till injection bar with narrow vertical shanks to slice into the soil,” Rulon says. “We couple that with a drag-line system to apply the liquid manure 3 in. under the soil surface. We can plant corn right behind the system.”

The system costs the Rulons about $10/acre extra; EQIP pays for half of that.

“We help our soil quality, prevent having any discharge from the hog farm and don’t have to apply any additional nitrogen (N),” notes Rulon. “These are not things you have to do. They just make a lot of sense.”

The conservation program also involves cover crops of either tillage radishes, oats, peas or ryegrass. No-till, cover-crop and manure-injecting programs enable the Rulons to grow corn using 50 lbs. less N than university recommendations “They promote strong organic development and worm populations to help aerate the soil,” he says.