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Why plant cover crops?

By Randall Reeder, P.E., Ohio State University Extension Agricultural Engineer (retired)

Jim Hershey, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, knows the absolute necessity for keeping pollutants out of streams. His family farms in the Susquehanna River watershed, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. When severe restrictions were placed on crop and livestock farms a few years ago, the Hershey Farm was already in compliance.

Cover crops and continuous no-till are keys to meeting restrictions on keeping nutrients and sediment out of streams and lakes. We need to recognize that Ohio farmers will eventually need to meet the “Chesapeake Bay” standards for Lake Erie and the Mississippi River.

Jim Hershey spoke at the Aug. 29 no-till field day at Wooster. He emphasized that cover crops should be treated as a cash crop.

Here’s what cover crops provide: increased water holding capacity, reduced weed pressure, reduced crop stress, reduced slug pressure, increased organic matter, and herbicides can be cut by two-thirds when planting green.

Any green living cover will help reduce carbon dioxide loss into the atmosphere. In contrast, a conventional corn-soybean rotation annually loses about 1,000 pounds of carbon per acre. No-till with cover crops can be part of a solution for global warming.

The Hershey Farm is an innovator (and inventor) for interseeding cover crops into corn. They build and sell interseeders, 6- and 12-row. Hershey, and many others, are researching various cover crops to find ones that can germinate and survive the summer without reducing corn yields.

At the field day, twenty speakers covered a range of topics. Rory Lewandowski, OSU Extension, organized a session on using cover crops for forage and erosion control that featured three local farmers: Mike Rupp, Doyle Stoller and Alan Kozak. Jim Hoorman, NRCS, spoke on success with no-till corn, and Ryan Haden, OSU-ATI, shared his research with interseeding cover crops into corn.

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