Cover crops improve soil health, yields

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Using cover crops such as oilseed radish, cereal rye, cowpea or Austrian winter pea can help growers improve soil health which leads to higher yields and lower input costs, an Ohio State University Extension expert says.

Examples of how to do so will be discussed by Jim Hoorman, an OSU Extension educator and an assistant professor studying cover crops and water quality issues, during a series of workshops Feb. 11, 20 and 25. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

The workshops are designed to help growers learn how to create healthier soils by increasing the carbon content in the soil, which leads to increased nutrient efficiency and increased yields, Hoorman said.

ECO Farming, which stands for "ecological farming" and includes using eternal no-till, continuous living cover and other best management practices, is not only economically viable, but also ecologically sound and environmentally sustainable. The method uses a combination of cover crops and no-till worked into a corn/soybean/wheat rotation to more efficiently use the inputs farmers add to their soil.

“ECO farming is a very hot topic right now,” Hoorman said. “The amount of cover crops being planted is doubling and tripling every year, with some 3 to 5 percent of farmers nationwide now using cover crops.

“Cover crops help soil retain a tremendous amount of carbon, which increases organic matter and microbial population in the soil at a rate of 1,000 to 2,000 times higher. The live roots absorb soluble nutrients and keep them recycling throughout the fall, winter and early spring months, which increases soil productivity and leads to yield increases.”

Workshop dates and topics:

Feb. 11:

  • ECO Farming: Ecological Farming Practices
  • Soil Ecology and Nutrient Recycling
  • Using Cover Crops to Adapt to Extreme Weather

Feb. 20:

  • Biology of Soil Compaction
  • Economics of Cover Crops
  • Using the Cover Crop Selector Tool

Feb. 25:

  • Raising Homegrown Nitrogen
  • Using Grasses and Brassica in Your Crop Rotation
  • Open discussion: Using Cover Crops in a Crop Rotation

Each workshop will be held 7-9 p.m. at the Putnam County office of OSU Extension, 1206 E. 2nd St., Ottawa. Registration is $20 for all three workshops, or $10 per session. The deadline to register is Feb 6. Handouts, fact sheets, websites, and a new Cover Crop Field Guide will be provided as part of this meeting.

For more information or to register, contact Hoorman at 419-523-6294 or hoorman.1@osu.edu



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