Cover crops help reduce soil erosion

Cover crops help reduce soil erosion

Cover crop acres in Ohio increased by over 360,469 acres from 2012-17. In 2012 Ohio farmers planted around 357,292 acres of cover crops. In 2017 they planted more than 717,759 acres.


Reflecting back over the 18 years I have worked at Holmes SWCD, I think of how some things change and how somethings aren’t all that much different.

Conserving our soils by implementing practices that reduce soil erosion and improve water quality has been and will continue to be a priority for Holmes Soil and Water Conservation District.

One of the things that has changed was the decision by Holmes SWCD board of supervisors to discontinue the no-till equipment rental program and replace it with a cover crop program. That was over 10 years ago.

This new program included setting up and coordinating an aerial seeding program as one way to increase cover crop acres in Holmes and surrounding counties. During those 10 years, 26,755 acres of cover crops were applied by the yellow planes you may have seen flying low over soybean fields in the fall.

The program resulted in a total of 42,886 acres of cover crops including all methods of application. The wisdom and foresight of that decision is proven by these results. The increase of articles and organizations promoting cover crops as the next step to no-till in reducing soil erosion and improving water quality is another indicator of the vision of that decision that was made 10 years ago.

According to a recent Ohio Farmer article reporting on the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there has been a significant increase in cover crop acres in the last five years. Cover crop acres in Ohio increased by over 360,469 acres from 2012-17. In 2012 Ohio farmers planted around 357,292 acres of cover crops. In 2017 they planted over 717,759 acres.

That is a 101 percent increase, ranking Ohio in the top-10 states. Nationwide, farmers planted 10 million acres in 2012 and over 15 million acres in 2017. That’s about a 50 percent increase. Farmers are recognizing cover crops can help the performance of their cropping system by reducing erosion and improving soil health.

Adding cover crops to many cropping systems may reduce valuable top-soil loss by more than 1 ton per acre per year, resulting in water quality improvement as well.

We are headed in the right direction, but we need to increase cover crop acres even faster. Those 717,759 acres of cover crops represent only 7 percent of Ohio’s cropland acreage. The increased erosion and soil loss caused by the frequency of intense rain events and the public demand for improved water quality are a reality. Planning and action to increase cover crop acres are a big part of the solution to address this reality.

Adding cover crops to a cropping system requires planning. Consider a calendar approach, starting with a spring “to do” list.

First, order seed. Seeding may take place in the fall, but the demand for seed requires placing orders in the spring. Rye is going to be in short supply this year because of a very wet fall in Canada, a major supplier of seed.

Second, terminate last fall’s cover crop to plant into this spring.

Third, get on the schedule for aerial applicators, custom applicators, or plan equipment and labor to get cover crops seeded as quickly as possible.

Fourth, sign up for cost share programs.

In my next column I will write about a cover crop plan and check list for the rest of the year.

This will be the 11th year for the Holmes SWCD cover crop program. Holmes SWCD will again coordinate an aerial program as an option for your cover crop system, but the cost share program includes other methods of application such as broadcast, drill and inter-seeding.

We can provide you with information about which seeding method best fits your cropping system. The aerial seeding is exciting but may not be a good fit for your operation. Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District is continuing to fund cost-share for cover crops. The base cost share will be $12 an acre. This will be the second year for a pilot project in Holmes and Coshocton counties. If your acres rank high enough, they may qualify for up to $20 an acre. If you have not seeded cover crops in the past, you may be eligible for $15 cost share.

Join in the effort to increase cover crop acres in Ohio this year. Give Holmes SWCD a call at 330-674-SWCD to assist you with adding cover crops to your operation and sign up for this year’s cover crop program now through June.

You will be doing your part to increase cover crop acres in Holmes County and Ohio. The result will be soil conservation and improved water quality. We can all benefit from that.

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