Myrel Trunnell has been farming in Daviess County since 1954.

But it wasn't until 2012 that he discovered the benefits of cover crops.

Prior to then, Myrel Trunnell said he had been hearing and learning about cover crops at agricultural meetings.

"The (state) came up with a (cover crop) program to get the farmer started on a few acres," Myrel Trunnell said. "They paid for the seed if you did the work."

Cover crops such as clover, turnips and ryegrass are planted after the main harvesting of corn, soybeans and tobacco.

Cover crops' purpose is to control soil erosion while increasing organic matter within the soil.

Myrel Trunnell, who farms around 1,200 acres in southern Daviess County, has hilly ground, which is more susceptible to erosion, that he uses for planting.

Myrel Trunnell said he took advantage of the initial cover crop program and has continued using the method despite the extra cost and work.

"Before they offered the program, I already knew I wanted to go that route," Myrel Trunnell said. "We've got hill land that does erode and I knew I wanted to protect it if I could."

Ryan Trunnell, Myrel Trunnell's grandson, has also become an advocate for cover crops.

In one field along U.S. 431, clover, tillage radishes and cereal rye has already begun to grow.

"Whenever you have soil, it just packs tight," Ryan Trunnell said. "But whenever you have organic matter in your soil, it leaves voids and space in there for oxygen. It makes a living soil. You get more micro and microorganisms in there and they have food to eat. It helps to build soil."

Along with using cover crops, the Trunnells are a no-till farm, which also helps in reducing erosion, keeping carbon in the ground and maintaining a fertile soil.

In particular, Ryan Trunnell said the tillage radish is ideal for no-till farms.

"It makes a deep root; it just gets down there and helps break compaction," he said. "It helps loosen up the soil versus running a disc over it. It makes spots for water to infiltrate."

The organic matter that is accumulating from the cover crops is beneficial depending on the weather.

For every inch of organic matter built up in the soil, Myrel Trunnell said it will hold an inch of rain.

"That's a big thing; it holds water for the days you don't get rain," he said. "So there are a lot of little factors that work with why I do it and want to keep doing it and why I want my grandson to do it."

According to farmprogress.com, the average soil loss rate is 5.8 tons per acre per year, which decreases yields by 15 bushels per acre per year.

Myrel Trunnell said he's not taken a hard look at whether his cover crops have cost him or saved him financially.

"As far as money, we've never tracked that," Myrel Trunnell said. "…But every farmer wants to know it is a return in dollars, not a return in soil."

But for Myrel Trunnell, the combination of cover crops and no tilling are his way of doing his part to save the soil.

"It's about saving the future," Myrel Trunnell said. "If you don't take care of the soil, our children are going to pay the price and our country."

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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