(This article was co-written by Ray Rummell and Linda Yeager, both from the Carroll SWCD.)
The Carroll Soil and Water Conservation District established a cover crop program to assist landowners/ users to reduce soil erosion being created by the increase in soybeans and corn production on marginal land. Carroll SWCD partnered with Muskingum Conservancy District earlier this year to do a fly-on cover crop program similar to the Holmes SWCD program established three years ago.
Due to the drought and the new concept we didn’t receive enough participation to implement this program, so we went with plan B. Eighteen producers participated in the cover crop program establishing over 1200 acres of rye, and wheat cover.
The establishment of these cover crops will reduce the soil lost into our streams and water bodies by 1068 tons. This soil erosion reduction also results in 1000 pounds of phosphorus and 2000 pounds of nitrogen retention in the soil profile.
The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District made the cost share incentive program available to local SWCDs and producers by providing the funds necessary to assist the producer to offset a portion of the cost to establish the cover. The MWCD feels this program is a huge benefit to everyone by helping reduce the sediment load in the conservancy lakes and keeping nutrients out of the water ways. Sediment being the number one pollutant in our stream and lakes, this was a win-win situation for everyone.
Cover crops have several benefits in addition to reducing erosion and recycling/ scavenging nutrients. They include: improving soil microbiology, increase soil organic matter, build soil tilth and structure, increase earth worm population, suppress weed growth, aid in manure management, reduce soil compaction, and improve water infiltration into the soil.
Every cover crop species has its own niche and attributes for agricultural production. Farmers may want to plant cover crops for a specific purpose, including the following: Cover crops for organic matter; cover crops for nitrogen; require no herbicide to kill; reduce compaction (deep rooted); quick forage that can be grazed; start up or enhance no-till; prevent soil erosion, recapture excess nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus); natural herbicides or allelopathic effects for weed suppression; attract beneficial insects; tolerate wet soils; tolerate heat and drought; cold tolerant; or nurse crops.
Cover crops offer many benefits to producers that will increase farm profitability and environmental sustainability. Cover crops should be considered an integral part of any farming system that wants to efficiently utilize nutrients, improve soil quality and increase farm profitability.
Improved soil health allows farmers to enjoy profits because they spend less on fuel and energy while benefiting from higher crop yields resulting from improved soil conditions. So many farmers have decided to plant cover crops this year, to prevent soil and water erosion and to provide “green manure” for next year’s crop.
Look for the gentle green cover in our fields as you drive throughout the county this winter. For assistance in putting a cover crop program together contact your local SWCD or NRCS office.
(Ray Rummell retired the NRCS after 35 years of service with USDA. He is now working part time with Carroll SWCD as a technician. Ray and his wife Rhonda live in Carroll County and are very active with the Carroll County Fair. Linda Yeager has lived in Carroll County all her life. She has been with the Carroll SWCD since 2001 where she serves as the District Administrator.)