COLUMBUS, — When it became apparent that the dry spell many Ohio growers experienced last year would become the worst drought in 50 years, David Brandt wasn’t worried about how well corn and soybeans on his 1,150-acre farm would fare.
The Carroll, Ohio, farmer instead relied upon a natural form of insurance that left the soils in his fields protected against the devastating effects of the record heat and drought that decimated many farmers nationwide in 2012.
Using conservation tillage methods such as no-till and planting cover crops, including radishes and Austrian winter peas in 15-inch alternating rows and an eight-species cover crop blend, allowed the ground temperatures on his farm to remain in a healthy range of 80 to 90 degrees while bare ground temperatures in tilled fields reached as high as 130 degrees, Brandt said.
The cover crops also helped retain higher soil moisture levels to help Brandt produce 168 bushels of corn per acre, compared to around 100 bushels per acre many growers using conventional tillage produced as a result of drought, he said.
“We were impressed with what we saw and I’m sure that our cover crops helped to create a healthier soil that helped us grow healthy crops during the drought,” Brandt said.
“Whereas growers who used conventional tillage had stressed corn and lower yields, conservation tillage prevented the same from happening to our fields.
“Cover crops allow us to try to mimic Mother Nature by keeping the soil covered as long as possible. And adding more species in your cover crops results in more diversity in the soil with deeper root systems, which helped our crops grow better.”
Brandt is just one of some 900 participants who are expected to attend the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference March 5-6 offered by Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
The annual conference will offer the latest research, insight, tips and techniques on conservation tillage, including cover crops, no-till, soil quality, seeding technology, water quality and nutrient management, said Randall Reeder, a retired OSU Extension agricultural engineer and a conference organizer.
Participation in the CTC conference may help growers achieve similar results as Brandt, even in extreme weather conditions such as drought, said Jim Hoorman, an OSU Extension educator and an assistant professor studying cover crops and water quality issues.
Storing carbon. But using no-till and planting cover crops helps to keep the soil protected and forms macro-aggregates, which store a lot of the carbon in soil.
Growing cover crops increases root mass in soils, which helps increase organic matter and carbon content in the soil.
Hoorman said this results in cooler soils, increased water infiltration, more water storage capacity, decreased soil compaction and keeps more carbon stored in the soil.
Hoorman, along with OSU Extension educators Rafiq Islam and Alan Sundermeier and ten other speakers, will present sessions on cover crops during the conference. In all, the two-day conference will feature 60 presenters.
Information presented will include about 10 hours on nutrient management; eight hours on soil and water; “Corn University”; “Soybean School”; crop scouting; no-till; and seeding technology.
Hoorman said interest in no-till and cover crops is growing because of the increased yield and profit potential, and cost savings from using less nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides.
But for some growers, it can be a hard sell, said Brandt, who works with OSU Extension and OARDC researchers on cover crops on his farm. That’s especially true for farmers who have used conventional tillage for years and may find it harder to adjust.
The Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference is at the McIntosh Center of Ohio Northern University in Ada. The full schedule and registration information can be found at http://ctc.osu.edu.
Participants can register online or by mail. Registration for the full conference is $85 (or $65 for one day) if received by Feb. 27. Information is also available in county offices of OSU Extension.