Cover crops reduce need for chemicals
Written by BILL RYAN Sentinel Farm Editor
Wednesday, 03 July 2013 10:11
CUSTAR — Most non-farmers do not know a cover crop from a tarp. Even many veteran growers do not use cover crops in their operation.
|Local farmers along with those involved in the farming industry tour the Northwest Ag Research Station on Range Line Road near Custar. The educational seminar for growers was on cover crops. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
In short, a cover crop is a crop planted primarily to manage soil fertility and/or soil quality. It is often planted in conjunction with another plant.
The use of such crops is on the rise and has benefits for both the farmer and the environment. Locally, the increased use of cover crops is considered to be a benefit in minimizing the algae blooms in Lake Erie.
More than five dozen people from Wood County and beyond attended the "Cover Crop Field Day" Tuesday morning at the Northwest Agriculture Research Station on Range Line Road near Hoytville.
"This was very good with lots of good information," said Tom Zulch who farms in the Weston area. "It was well worth the time and effort to attend."
The featured speaker was Dave Brandt, who is considered a "farmer expert" from Fayette County.
Brandt detailed various crops which can be used in different circumstances. He provided details about the nuts and bolts of the use, along with providing his trial and error research over the years.
Brandt said he has been using cover crops since 1978, and he is now thankful there is now expert research being done on these test plots, along with other similar data gathering around Ohio and beyond.
"It's going to be fun in the next few years," Brandt said in relation to the increased data being compiled.
He said he regularly leaves some soybeans in his planter box when planting his corn crop in a soybean to corn rotation.
Alan Sundermeier, OSU Extension agent for Wood County, explained the practice of using cover crops is "still innovative."
"It's a new idea to most people. Many farmers are still hesitant to use them. When they learn it can prevent problems on their farm, they will try it."
Among the benefits for the farmer are a reduction in the amount of compaction, enhancing soil quality by bringing nutrients up where the main crop can better use them and a reduction in weeds.
Many cover crops will soon be planted following the wheat harvest. Brandt suggests an eight-crop mixture, including two carbon series crops, four nitrogen sources and two deep-rooted crops.
In some circumstances Brandt likes to use sunflowers with the bonus of appearance.
The idea is to allow nature to provide many of the benefits instead of applying chemicals to the fields, such as fertilizers and herbicides. Those chemicals often run off the land and end up in waterways leading to the Great Lakes or other waterways.
Another Weston grower, Bill Williams, also called the information gathered Tuesday, "real interesting."
Williams has been increasing his use of cover crops over the last few years. This year he said he planted soybeans into oats with the intent of harvesting both crops.
He said he started no-till practices three years ago as he planted soybeans into corn. He began incorporating forage crops into his rotation five years ago and has been very pleased.
"It enables us to use less commercial fertilization," Williams said. "Most times we can reach the same yield plateaus, but not always because of the variables."
He said the bottom line is the bottom line.
"We are all trying to save the high dollar costs as much as possible," Williams summarized for his use.
He said he has used a three-blend mix which includes alfalfa, timothy and smooth bromegrass. He uses that mix to feed his sheep.
"It works real well, and I can also sell the hay from that mix that I don't use," Williams said.
Jim Carter, a district administrator with the Wood Soil and Water Conservation District, echoed the comments of the benefits to the farm including the improvement of soil conditions and controlling the weeds.
He said now is a good time for farmers to consider ordering seeds and planning to use cover crops in their fields.
Depending on the cover crop and the field, some cover crops are never intended to be harvested. For example a mix of radishes and peas may be seeded into a corn field to enrich the soil and will never be harvested. What may seem like a waste of seed is actually found to be a cheaper cost achieving the same results as commercial chemicals.
"There is a real benefit of using less chemical nutrients and suppressing weeds from the greater crop rotation," Carter said.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 July 2013 10:59