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Tossed Out

Could improving soil health help drought-stricken fields?

Corn residue on a field in Boone County, Iowa (file: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)
Corn residue on a field in Boone County, Iowa (file: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)

A report by a prominent environmental group released Tuesday says farmers aren’t doing enough to shield their soil from the effects of drought and it’s costing both farmers and taxpayers money.

Farmers across the country received more than $17 billion in federal crop insurance payouts after last year’s drought. The Natural Resources Defense Council says farmers could have greatly reduced losses, if they had been working to improve soil health.

The NRDC suggests that planting certain grasses and legumes, and implementing a set of soil conservation practices, could nearly drought-proof fields. That would save farmers a lot of headache and taxpayers a lot of money   

Many farmers, though, aren’t exactly sold on the report’s findings.

Doug Wilson, a farmer in Livingston County, Ill., says it would have been hard for those practices to fend off last year’s extreme heat and dryness. He paraphrased former President Dwight Einsenhower when reacting to the report.

“It’s a lot easier to farm with a pencil from a thousand miles away than it is to actually have your hand on the plow,” Wilson said.

 Livingston County had the highest crop insurance payout in the nation.