OHIO STATE: COVER CROPS CAN IMPROVE SOIL HEALTH, WATER QUALITY AND YIELDS

Source: Ohio State University news release

Farmers who add cover crops to their fields not only can help improve Ohio’s water quality, they can also cut input costs and improve their soil’s health.

Growers who plant cover crops – including oilseed radish, cereal rye, Austrian winter pea and crimson clover – can also expect to reduce soil erosion and cut down on nutrient losses, according to Jim Hoorman, a soil expert with Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Hoorman, an Ohio State University Extension educator and an assistant professor studying cover crops and water quality issues, will offer a workshop for both growers who want get started planting cover crops and those who want to expand their knowledge of the benefits of cover crops. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.

Hoorman will hold the workshop, “Using Cover Crops to Improve Soil Health,” at several sites, beginning with Ottawa on Jan. 7, 2015.

The workshop discussion will also focus on how the use of cover crops can have a positive impact on improving the state’s watersheds, he said.

Experts say phosphorus runoff from farmland is a cause of the harmful algal blooms plaguing Lake Erie and other lakes. In August, toxins from a bloom in western Lake Erie led to a two-day drinking water ban in Toledo.

“The use of cover crops and ECO farming (ecological farming) is growing in popularity among farmers because of its success in improving soil structure, decreasing soil and nutrient losses, and eventually leading to higher yields,” Hoorman said. “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.”

Ecological concepts help to make farming more efficient, he said.

“Farmers wanting to keep nutrients out of surface water, including Lake Erie, Grand Lake St. Marys and Buckeye Lake, will find that cover crops is one way to do that,” Hoorman said. “Their use can counter extreme weather events and store soil moisture while improving water quality.”

The workshop 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, such as the fact that legume cover crops protect the soil from erosion but also produce nitrogen for crop production, he said.

“Cover crops and no-till worked together in a crop rotation to feed the soil microbes, which more efficiently utilize and retain soil nutrients,” Hoorman said. “Soil microbes are like soluble bags of fertilizer, so keeping the soil microbes healthy improves plant production.”

Topics for the daylong workshop include:

* ECO farming: Ecological farming practices

* Soil ecology and nutrient recycling

* Using cover crops to adapt to extreme weather

* Biology of soil compaction

* Soil demonstrations

* Economics of cover crops

* Using the cover crop selector tool

* Raising homegrown nitrogen

* Using grasses and brassica in your crop rotation

* Open discussion: Using cover crops in a crop rotation

* Keeping phosphorus in the soil profile using ECO farming

The registration cost for each workshop is $25 and includes lunch, handouts, fact sheets and a new Midwest Cover Crop Field Guide. Times and locations are:

* Jan. 7 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Putnam County OSU Extension Office, 1206 East Second St., in Ottawa. To register, call 419-523-6294 or email hoorman.1@osu.edu.

* Feb. 4 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Knox County Extension Office, 1025 Harcourt Road, in Mt. Vernon. To register, call 740-397-0401 or email barker.41@osu.edu.

* Feb. 11 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Willams County Soil and Water Conservation District Office, 1120 W. High St., in Bryan. To register, call 419-636-5608 or email chirra.1@osu.edu.

* Mar. 19 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the location to be announced. To register, call 937-224-9654 or email mills-wasniak.1@osu.edu.

* Mar. 24 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Paulding County Fairgrounds, 503 Fairground Drive, in Paulding. To register, call 419-399-8225 or email noggle.17@osu.edu.

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

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