"I call them conservation covers."
He's talking about cover crops. There are dozens of varieties which keep fields green all year long, and, in turn, keep the soil underneath healthy.
"If it's a sloping field with erosion then we can get those planted so we don't allow any nutrients in the soil to leave the field. That way we can utilize it the next year for crops that we're going to grow."
Otherwise, over time, unused soil can turn lifeless.
"There's a double-barrel shotgun aimed right at the corn-belt. With the price of farmland today, I don't particularly want to see mine going down the stream. The nutrients need to stay in the fields."
That's why Joe Updike started planting his cover crops more than a decade ago. So far, he's says it's been a total success.
"It makes your soil a lot more resilient. You rely a whole lot less on crop insurance."
But, right now, only a fraction of farmers use cover crops. The state hopes they'll catch on. It's launching a three-year demonstration project in fields around the state to make it easier for farmers to learn the ropes. It's something Updike says is essential moving forward.
"I truly think that's the way the American farmer is going to have to feed the world."
There are a few drawbacks to cover crop farming. Farmers say it's a big investment up front, plus, it can be difficult to juggle the extra work.
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