Cover crops protect your soil

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Nov 18, 2013
We often don’t think of fields of green in the winter months but keeping your soil protected by cover crops is an important way to reduce soil erosion and improve soil health for the following growing season.

Cover crops work by improving soil at the rhizosphere — the place where soil and root meet. Cover crops can help to increase organic matter, break up compaction, and provide essential nutrients to soil microbes that work to build a healthy soil ecosystem.

Although it is past the seeding date for winter cover crops, it’s never too late to start thinking about next year. Whether you’re considering cover crops or another way to improve natural resources on your property, winter provides a time to get educated about the opportunities for conservation.

Two upcoming events geared at helping local farmers and non-farming agricultural landowners are the Old Woman Creek Reserve’s “Best Management Practices Breakfast for Farmers” and “Using Cover Crops to Improve Soil Health” workshop. These events will focus on highlighting local conservation assistance opportunities to reduce soil erosion and nutrient loss from farmland as well as help to navigate implementing soil health building techniques into the farm operation.

Best Management Practices Breakfast for Farmers, 8-10 a.m. Dec. 13
Learn about local programs and funding opportunities to help improve your farmland and reduce soil loss and nutrient run-off. Presentation highlights include:

• Old Woman Creek Farm Tile Monitoring Preliminary Results
Bre Hohman, Firelands Tributaries Watershed coordinator, will follow up from 2012, when local farmers volunteered to monitor their own field tile outlets as a result of this BMP Breakfast. Learn how they monitored nutrient losses at their site in partnership with OWC scientists!

• Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grant Update from Huron SWCD:
Old Woman Creek and Chapel Creek Farmers are eligible to enroll.
Alisa Schaffer and Carey Brickner of Huron SWCD will share current information about cover crops funding, hayed filter strips funding, and redlined sod waterway funding. Do you have ideas for future grants?

• New nutrient management grants from Sandusky River Watershed Coalition: Erie County farmers are eligible to enroll!
Come learn from Cindy Brookes how the Sandusky River Watershed Coalition as part of a grant through Heidelberg University will be helping to fund a SWCD Technician to help farmers see the benefits of implementing a Best Management Practice.
Additional effort will be to calibrate and verify data to convert the Nutrient Tracking Tool Model for field level modeling within the Great Lakes Basin. Training and testing by area farmers, Ag Retailers and Ag professionals will be part of this grant as well.

Using Cover Crops to Improve Soil Health, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Jan. 14
Jim Hoorman, OSU Extension educator will offer growers an advanced, marathon session on cover crops, with the opportunity to work hands-on with soils and seeds and learn about specific cover crops. Starting with soil ecology, we’ll talk about how the soil microbes and plants work together, as well as discuss nutrient recycling of nitrogen and phosphorus, biology of soil compaction, soil structure and benefit of live roots in the soil to promote soil health. The workshop will also cover the economics of using cover crops and how cover crops can counter extreme weather events, store soil moisture and improve water quality.

The workshop will also focus on the use of cover crops and ECO Farming, or “ecological farming,” a method that is growing in popularity among farmers because of its success in improving soil structure, decreasing soil and nutrient losses, and eventually leads to higher yields.

ECO Farming includes using long term no-till, continuous living cover and other best management practices as an economically viable, ecologically sound and environmentally sustainable growing practice. Cover crops and no-till worked together in a crop rotation to feed the soil microbes which more efficiently utilize and retain soil nutrients. Soil microbes are like soluble bags of fertilizer so keeping the soil microbes healthy improves plant production. As more farmers learn more about it, more growers are incorporating the use of cover crops, with some 5-10 percent of farmers nationwide who are now using the method. One of the goals of cover crops is to increase the efficiency of fertilizer inputs while attempting to increase yields and raise better crops. Using cover crops with no-till allows the soil to increase its organic matter content. Organic matter is a storehouse for soil nutrients and soil water and buffers soil temperature. Cover crops reduce soil erosion and improves water quality.

Topics for the daylong workshop include: 
• ECO Farming: Ecological Farming Practices
• Soil Ecology and Nutrient Recycling q Using Cover Crops to Adapt to Extreme Weather
• Biology of Soil Compaction
• Soil demonstrations q Economics of Cover Crops
• Using the Cover Crop Selector Tool q Raising Homegrown Nitrogen
• Using Grasses and Brassica in Your Crop Rotation
• Open discussion: Using Cover Crops in a Crop Rotation