Developing effective conservation agriculture systems starts with people, each bringing perspective on what's needed and how to address the economic and environmental challenges in the field. For 3 decades, CTIC has provided the forum for people to connect across boundaries, bringing together people from government, academia, agribusiness, the non-profit community and the farm to find ways to put conservation into action.
The Indian Creek Watershed Project brought together farmers and other stakeholders in a central Illinois watershed in a remarkable collaboration that resulted in conservation practices being adopted on at least 57% of the agricultural acreage in the watershed and measurable reductions in nutrients in the creek. The project yielded perspective on conservation practices from demonstration projects, success stories from local farmers, and insight into successful leadership of watershed groups.
Professional Development Events for Indiana SWCS
CTIC is collaborating with the Hoosier Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society to host a series of workshops and professional networking events for Indiana's conservation stakeholders, and to connect those stakeholders with extension agents. Plans include events in 2019 and 2020.
Watershed Leadership Forums
A series of forums gathering leaders of watershed projects from around the country yielded a treasure trove of best practices for both conservation and leadership.
For more than a decade, CTIC has organized annual summer tours that provide perspective on regional resource challenges and a close-up look at innovative conservation practices. In addition to technical insight and dozens of outstanding speakers, every Conservation in Action Tour provides some of the best networking in the conservation agriculture space, bringing together a wide range of people to share the experience—and their perspectives.
Drawing on deep technical expertise as well as organizational experience, CTIC has planned and facilitated meetings, workshops and trainings around the world. CTIC works closely with federal and state agencies, conservation districts, and non-profits to ensure effective two-way communication. Current training programs include technical workshops for EPA staff and partners as well as sessions for crop consultants and other farm advisors.
NARS Technical Training Workshops
Working with US EPA on its National Aquatic Resource Survey (NARS) program, CTIC provides leadership and technical support for State and Tribal Aquatic Resource Monitoring Technical Training Workshops, including 2 national programs and up to 10 aquatic-resource-specific trainings, between 2016 and 2020. The workshops enhance collaboration and communication among more than 800 attendees.
CTIC/EPA Consultant Workshop
Through a collaborative agreement with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CTIC provides leadership and technical support for 5 workshops between 2015 and 2020 that teach Certified Crop Advisors, ag retailers and other agronomic consultants to identify conservation systems that could benefit their clients' farms, then connect them with technical and financial support for implementation. Practices include in-field nutrient management, drainage water management systems, bioreactors, saturated buffers and more.
CTIC promotes conservation practices by raising awareness of the benefits of conservation, providing detailed information on successful implementation of practices, and sharing perspective on the needs and real-world challenges facing farmers trying to protect soil, water and air quality as well as their economic sustainability.
Watershed Success Forums
Working with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), CTIC is identifying successful watershed management activities that engage landowners, farmers, and the broader public to protect water quality. Five forums in five states are yielding a guide for NRCS, partners and stakeholders on organizing local watershed groups and creating successful watershed products. The guide, being prepared by Dr. Linda Prokopy of Purdue University in collaboration with CTIC, will be released in the fall of 2019.
With EPA and other partners, CTIC identifies leaders in conservation farming practices and shares their successes with farmers and other stakeholders around the country. We work with media to tell the stories of farmers finding economic and ecological benefits from protecting water quality in our nation's lakes, streams, and coastal environments, and collect insight on a special, dedicated portion of our website.
Cover Crops Research and Demonstration
Cover crops are among the most exciting and most complex conservation systems on today's agricultural landscape. CTIC and its partners have been at the forefront of exploring, demonstrating, and promoting cover crops to help make them as effective as possible.
CTIC is supporting this Honey Bee Health Coalition led effort to bring together beekeepers and farmers to demonstrate how a suite of best practices can be implemented on agricultural landscapes to support honey bee health. This innovative strategy provides a blueprint for supporting pollinator health across North America.
With a Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA NRCS and support from other partners, CTIC led a detailed research project into the agronomic, environmental and economic impact of cover crops in 7 states. Lessons learned ranged from better cover crop management to improved design of multi-variate studies.
Cover crops offer a wide range of benefits to farmers, protecting fields from erosion, building healthy soils, and capturing nutrients and holding them in the root zone. CTIC and USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program surveyed farmers for years on their attitudes and approaches to cover crops. Our annual reports help guide policy and promotion around cover crops and yield insight into why farmers do or don't adopt the practice.
Data on Conservation Practices
Since its inception, CTIC has been the go-to source for data on the adoption of conservation practices across the U.S. Though federal support of the popular crop residue management transect survey ended in 2004, scientists, policy makers and marketers have continued to tap CTIC's databases. Now, we're at the forefront of using remote sensing to bring back state, regional and national data on crop residue and cover crop management.
The Operational Tillage Information System (OpTIS) has been developed by Applied GeoSolutions and CTIC as a method for the automated use of remote sensing (satellite-based) data to monitor conservation practices in agricultural systems, including various forms of reduced tillage and the planting of winter cover crops.
Since 1982, CTIC's National Crop Residue Management Survey (CRM) has been the only survey in the U.S. designed to measure and track the type of tillage used by crop at the county level through direct observation of field conditions by on-the-ground experts at mile or half-mile intervals. Funding for the full national survey ended in 2004, though some states have continued to submit their own data since then. A searchable database is available here.
Sustainable Supply Chains
As food companies and consumers demand more detailed accounting of the environmental footprint of their raw materials, stakeholders throughout the agri-food supply chain are working diligently to quantify and benchmark sustainability. CTIC is a partner in several initiatives to bring together participants from various points in the supply chain to develop metrics and processes that provide useful insight and fit into real-world, on-farm management systems.
Big Pine Watershed Water Quality Metric Trial
CTIC is assisting Field to Market with a small-scale pilot of an improved water quality metric for Field to Market's FieldPrint Calculator. This effort will leverage relationships developed through the Big Pine Watershed project to collect farm management data and farmer feedback on the new metric.
Supporting Supply Chain Sustainability
CTIC recently began a new phase of a project funded by Iowa's Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. In cooperation with Practical Farmers of Iowa and The Nature Conservancy, CTIC is leading the development of a program that will train and incentivize retail agronomists to become advocates for conservation systems built around cover cropping. The project areas have been selected to leverage ongoing, privately funded supply chain sustainability initiatives.