Mark DePoy is new District Conservationist with County Soil and Water District


Mark DePoy began his duties as the new District Conservationist for Switzerland, Ohio, and Dearborn counties late last year, but with his expansive background in conservation issues and practices, he’s already working hard for the farmers and landowners in Southeastern Indiana.

He officially started in his new position around Thanksgiving; and is a native of Carroll County, Indiana, which is near Lafayette.

“I grew up there on a small farm, and that gave me a lot of experience with forestry, as well as corn, soybeans, and wheat,” he said. “Up there we also produce a lot of hogs along with a few cattle, not as many as down here, certainly.”

After graduating from high school, he earned a degree in natural resources management from Ball State University with an emphasis in soil conservation and resources. From there, he went to work for what was then the Soil Conservation Service – now known as the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

“I actually started with them when I was still in college in 1976,” Mark DePoy said. “I went to Posey County down in the ‘toe’ of Indiana, and after that I went to Dekalb County, St. Joseph County, and Tippecanoe County.”

From there, Mark DePoy said that he decided to go back to school, returning to Ball State to earn a degree in environmental management with an emphasis in water resources and water quality.

A job working with the U.S. Department of Interior followed that, managing land for the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. That job took him to service in such locations as Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky; the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona; and the Buffalo National River Park in Arkansas.

“At that point I kind of missed the agriculture part of natural resource management, so in 2009 I came back to work with this agency,” Mark DePoy said. “This was the agency I came to work for right after school, so I first came back I was working as a resource conservation development coordinator, which is a little bit different than this position. I worked on natural resource-type projects; but also accomplished economic development by creating jobs and businesses and that sort of thing.”

Now involved more in soil conservation farm planning, natural resource-type management, Mark DePoy said that now that he’s here he will be dealing with farmers in a variety of ways; but will be working a lot with row crop producers, those producers who are producing corn, soybeans, and wheat; along with those producers who have cattle and have pasture and hay fields that they are managing. He will also be doing quite a bit of forestry work, as well.

“With the row crop producers who are mainly on a corn, soybean, and wheat rotation, we will be working with them to try and increase productivity and soil quality,” Mark DePoy said. “If we can build their soil quality, we can get them to a point where they are using less fertilizer inputs that are synthetic or created from fossil fuels.”

Mark DePoy said that this will be implemented this year by encouraging farmers to use cover crops when the corn or beans are harvested in the fall.

“After farmers harvest that crop, your residue begins to deteriorate and break down and is converted back into usable nutrients,” he said. “If you have a cover crop there, the roots of that will grab those nutrients and put them back into vegetative growth and hold that there over the winter.”

When the crop is then planted in the spring, it begins to grow as the cover crop begins to deteriorate, which releases the nutrients that are used by the now-growing crop – reducing the need for fertilizers and reducing costs to the farmer. Also, if farmers experience a hot, dry summer like in recent years, Mark DePoy says that the vegetation in no-till production can operate as a sponge and hold additional water to be used by the plants.

Mark DePoy said that most of the farmers here in Switzerland County that he has met are very conservation-oriented, noting that about 90-percent are already using no-till as a method of planting their crops. He said that those practices build soil, reduce erosion, and makes our water in streams cleaner.

“The farmers in this county have a very long and good history of conservation,” Mark DePoy said. “Because they have seen the benefits of that practice, because you’re building up that soil, not losing it.”

In terms of forestry, Mark DePoy says that when he looks historically at our forests, there used to be a wide array of tree species in our forests – but we’ve lost many of those due to the accidental importing of pests, like fungus diseases and insects.

“For example, the American Chestnut Tree was really a keystone species in this part of the deciduous forest, because it’s a tree that grows very well on marginal soil, and much of our forest is on marginal soil: steep, highly erodible and has a thin top soil. That tree grows very well there,” Mark DePoy said.

It’s also economic. Mark DePoy says that an acre of mature Chestnut Trees can easily produce 2,000 pounds of nuts, and those nuts sell on the market today for $3 a pound and up.

“We’ve lost that tree due to importing a fungus into this country back in 1902, and that has completely wiped out the American Chestnut,” Mark DePoy said. “Now we have trees that are resistant to that disease that can be planted back in the forest lands to restore that species, and that will give us that nut production or a farmer may simply want to harvest the tree for its lumber.”

Mark DePoy said that he will also be working with producers to bring back the American Elm Tree, of which many of been lost due to Dutch Elm Disease. He said that there are now about six different varieties that are resistant to the disease; and the same is being done with the Butternut Tree, a tree that was also lost due to a fungal disease.


As for the uniqueness of Switzerland County compared to other regions of the state, Mark DePoy said that with producers here already on board with conservation, part of his job is keeping producers up to date on new technologies that are available, including no-till.

“For farmers who are managing land that is heavy clay and traditionally wet, sometimes no-till can be challenging,” Mark DePoy said. “Those soils get so wet that they aren’t able to close back the furrow after the double disk opener goes through it. Now there’s a practice called strip tilling, where new equipment allows those furrows to be closed a good bit more and you get a good closure on the seed bed.”

He said that the farmland in the riverbottoms around Vevay are higher in clay content and have less sand, but as one travels east, you run into areas that are very sandy, and in those areas, preserving moisture and having that available can be challenging during hot, dry summers like Switzerland County just experienced.

“Different soils mean different applications of agronomy and crops that will work there and management schemes,” he said. “The farmers on the riverbottoms with sandy soils, they want as much crop residue as they can get. One of their challenges is trying to build organic matter in that soil.”

Mark DePoy is in Switzerland County two to three days per week, as he rotates his time here with Ohio and Dearborn counties. He noted that Ohio County currently doesn’t have a designated office, but he using space through the extension service and he has been meeting with farmers there. Long term, he plans on being in Switzerland County two days a week; Dearborn County two days a week; and in Ohio County for one day a week.

If farmers want to stop in and meet Mark DePoy, they just need to call the Switzerland County Soil and Water Conservation District at 427-3126. He said that currently he is in the county on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; and is anxious to meet as many producers as possible.