COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With rising crop input costs affecting the production bottom line, more farmers are recognizing the economic value and environmental benefits of conservation tillage practices.
The record attendance at this year's Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference may be a reflection of that increased interest, said Randall Reeder, an OSU Extension agricultural engineer and a conference organizer.
"Farmers are looking for ways to cut input costs. Even though fertilizer prices have dropped, the spike we saw last year may have served as a warning that prices could rise again," said Reeder, who also holds an appointment with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "This conference is designed to emphasize cost-saving farming methods."
The annual conference, recently held in Ada, Ohio, saw a 15 percent increase in attendance from 2008 to nearly 900 participants. Since 2003, attendance has increased nearly 40 percent. Reeder said that record attendances were also posted for the Ohio No-Till Conference in December, as well as the National No-Till Conference held in January.
"Farmers are seeing a future where there will probably be less tillage involved and they want to be ahead of the game," said Reeder. "They obviously see value in the educational opportunities that such conferences as our Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference afford."
OSU Extension introduced the precursor to the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference in 1984 -- a one-day ridge-till meeting. Gradually, the meeting evolved into a two-day program with concurrent sessions on no-till, mulch-till and other related topics. The conference has been held at Ohio Northern University for 17 years and is considered the longest-running conservation tillage conference in the country.
"Don Moore, an Ohio State University area farm management specialist from Eaton, was the one who started it all. I got involved with it in the second year, and when Don retired I inherited the program from him and have been with it ever since," said Reeder. "It has grown into a major team effort involving several county Extension educators, Soil and Water Conservation District personnel, and other U.S. Department of Agriculture folks."
Each year the conference welcomes farmers and agricultural consultants from across the Midwest, including Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, as well as Canada. It features about 60 speakers. University specialists, industry representatives and farmers cover topics ranging from cover crops to soil fertility to precision agriculture.
Two new sessions offered this year -- a pre-conference on cover crops and an in-depth session on corn production -- were big hits for participants, said Reeder.
"There is definitely more interest in cover crops from the attendance we saw at the pre-conference event and the cover crops session that was offered during the conference," said Reeder. "Farmers are exploring whether using cover crops can help them save on fertilizer purchases, while building up their soil."
Corn University was also a highlight this year. The five-hour program featured Extension corn specialists from across the Midwest who offered information on how to achieve high corn yields.
"The main theme was what could a farmer do to reach 300 bushels? But the same principles can be applied when trying to go from 150 bushels per acre to 200 bushels per acre," said Reeder. "Farmers saw value in the information that was provided in being able to potentially achieve higher corn yields."
In addition to farmers, the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference is a big draw for crop consultants, who can choose from over 40 hours of Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) credits in soil and water, nutrient management, pest management, and crop management.
"Soil and water and nutrient management credits are hard to come by. In two days at this conference, CCAs can earn all those credits they need for recertification," said Reeder.
The educational value that both farmers and CCAs obtain during the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference can mean big savings for Ohio agriculture. In 2008, farmers who attended the conference translated the educational value into $4.7 million for their farming operations, while CCAs placed the conference's educational value at $250 million.
Corn, soybeans and wheat are Ohio's top-three field crop commodities. Approximately 20 percent of the state's corn crop is in no-till, while 80 percent of Ohio's soybeans and wheat are farmed no-till.
The Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference is co-sponsored by OSU Extension, OARDC, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Districts, USDA Farm Service Agency and Ohio No-Till Council.
The next conference will be held Feb. 25-26, 2010, at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. For more information, log on to http://ctc.osu.edu, or contact Randall Reeder at (614) 292-6648 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference is just one of countless OSU Extension offerings that provide measurable benefits to Ohioans. In an independent study, Battelle found OSU Extension is "purposely designed to produce positive economic and social impacts for the state of Ohio" and that it is a "generator of positive economic impacts." For example, every 1 percent increase in agricultural output through Extension programming brings $149 million in output to Ohio and $29 million in income for Ohioans.