Cover Crop and Tillage Transect Data

According to a recent survey, Indiana farmers saved nearly 6.3 million tons of valuable top soil from erosion last spring as a result of no-till farming, a conservation practice known for improving organic matter and soil health. The tillage transect shows no-till corn acres at 1.1 million this year, an 8 percent decrease, and no-till soybean acres at 2.7 million, which is down 5 percent from 2015.

Despite this reduction, Indiana has seen a 379 percent increase in the amount of no-till corn and soybean acres in the last 25 years.

There are many variables, such as a mild winter and heavy rainfall, that can impact a farmer’s decision to no till and no two years or operations are alike. It is important to conduct this survey so trends can be analyzed over time and to ensure farmers are moving in the right direction.

The tillage transect is an on-the-ground survey conducted every other year by members of Indiana’s Conservation Partnership (ICP) that identifies the types of tillage systems farmers are using after crops emerge in the spring. The ICP has been tracking tillage trends since the 1990s.

The ICP wants to see more no-till acres across Indiana, as it can reduce soil erosion by 75 percent compared to a conventional (chisel-disk) tillage system. The savings were not only in the soil, farmers who used reduced tillage systems also required fewer passes across the field, and they used less fuel that resulted in 12 million gallons of diesel saved.

Although all types of conservation tillage help keep the soil on the field where it belongs, no-till is the only method that actually builds soil health and retains soil structure. Farmers who are serious about making their land more adaptive to extreme weather conditions and improving soil function, should consider using a combination of no-till, cover crops and other conservation practices such as adaptive nutrient management, integrated weed and pest management, and diverse crop rotations.

In addition to no-till, the transect also captures data from other conservation tillage methods, such as mulch-till and reduced-till, that leave at least 30 percent residue cover, which can help reduce soil erosion by 50 percent or more compared to bare soil. This is good for Indiana farmers, good for soil productivity, and good for our drinking water because crop residue keeps the soil from washing off the field.

The transect shows that farmers used reduced tillage methods on more than 680,000 corn acres and close to 1.1 million soybean acres last spring.

Farmers in Indiana are doing good things on a voluntary basis and it’s important to tell that story especially with reports on agriculture's role in the Gulf hypoxia and Great Lakes issues. Taking the time to observe, track and report using the transect method helps document their efforts.

The ICP is now conducting their fall cover crop transect. ISDA maintains tillage transect reports dating back to 1990 on their website at and includes the most recent transect results. To learn more about the transect data for your county, visit your local Soil and Water Conservation District office found here:

Guidance Documents for 2017 Fall Cropland Transect Survey

Definitions of Conservation Tillage Practices

Statewide Historical Trend Reports

2017 Tillage Transect Data

2016 Fall Cover Crop and Tillage Transect Data

2015 Fall Cover Crop and Tillage Transect Data

2015 Tillage Transect Data

2014 Fall Cover Crop and Tillage Transect Data

2013 Tillage Transect Data

2011 Tillage Transect Data

2009 Tillage Transect Data

2007 Tillage Transect Data

2004 Tillage Transect Data

2000 Tillage Transect Data

1997 Tillage Transect Data

1993 Tillage Transect Data

1990 Tillage Transect Data