By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Ohio Field Leader
Panel Discussions, a 19,000-acre cover crop grower, and the Ohio Director of Agriculture highlighted the 2019 Ohio No-Till Conference at Der Dutchman in Plain City on Thursday. Ohio No-Till Council President Jan Layman from Hardin County welcomed a near capacity crowd of farmers and agribusiness people to the annual meeting of conservation minded farmers eager to discuss some of the lessons learned from what proved to be a very challenging year.
With a backdrop of hot coffee and freshly baked donuts, many attendees discussed the past growing season and shared stories of the weather struggles going back to the fall of 2018. The conference program started on an optimistic note with a panel discussion looking ahead at best practices to manage cover crops going into the spring of 2020. Participants Nathan Brause, Cody Beacom, Jay Brandt, Glen Harsh, and Eric Niemeyer shared their experiences and lessons to carry forward.
Cover crop test plot results, tips for planting green, terminating cover crops, and various species mixes were discussed as well. For those farmers looking to transition by incorporating cover crops into their operation, Glen Harsh suggests “Start small and then scale up as you learn.” Eric Niemeyer agreed with Harsh and added that “the management of the cover crops on each individual farm is a key. Learning to manage them is probably the most important part to be successful.”
Mark Anson, who farms near Vincennes, Ind. shared his experiences in farming 19,000 acres of no-till with cover crops on their family operation. Mark with his brothers and their sons have planted over 75,000 acres of cover crops in the past eight years on the ground they manage and have had several successes and failures that they have learned and grown from. Anson shared “the learning never ends.”
The Ansons have found that by establishing cover crops earlier in the season they can capture and store more nutrients.
“If we get the cover crop going while the cash crop is still in the field, they are able to capture more nutrients as the cash crop matures and ceases to take them up, and then after harvest as it begins to break down and release them back into the soil,” Anson said.
Bret Margraf from the Seneca County Soil and Water Conservation District moderated a panel discussion with Jan Layan, Jay Brandt, Aaron Heilers, and Anson. Questions were taken from attendees and answered by the panel regarding: why each started growing cover crops, improving soil health, cover crop establishment challenges and residual herbicide carryover, cover crop termination and rolling experience, timing of fall seedings and preferred methods, and cover crops best for pollinators. Farmers were reminded that that same attention to detail should be given when planting cover crops as is given when establishing a traditional cash crop.
Awards were presented at lunch including the Ohio No-Till Educator/Researcher Award, which was presented to the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network, with Aaron Heilers receiving. The Ohio No-Till Business and Industry Awards were presented to Clary Farms, Walnut Creek Seeds, and Bird Agronomics. Nathan Brause of Crawford County was presented with the Outstanding No-Till Farmer Award for 2019. Ohio No-Till College Scholarships were presented to Jessica Monnier, Aubrey Margraf, Matt Roth, and Jonathan Hoorman.
Darrin Unruh and Sarah Varble from Indigo Ag discussed their company’s position in helping to align industry and investors with farmers who contract to sequester carbon on their farms. Their goal is to have what they call the “Indigo Terra Ton” which is equal to one trillion tons of carbon stored by farmers through various conservation practices, and be able to take those credits to the marketplace.
Bill Richards, former Chief of the Soil Conservation Service under President George H. W. Bush, along with Allan Lines retired professor of Agriculture Economics at The Ohio State University, and Ben Brown, current OSU Extension Farm Management Specialist all discussed the state of federal farm policy past, present, and future. Lines remarked that “past farm policy may have unintentionally encouraged soil abuse,” and it was up to those in leadership going forward to make sure that it did not happen in the future.
Ohio Director of Agriculture Dorothy Pelanda addressed the audience sharing her appreciation for agriculture and being raised in the country. Director Pelanda discussed the H2Ohio program and Governor Mike DeWine’s directive to implement the 10 phosphorus reduction best practices, focusing first on 14 counties in the Maumee River Watershed. Funding to the USDA for this is $30 million with an additional $20 million coming from Senate Bill 299. Director Pelanda shared remarks about the farmer certification portion of the program, and announced Clark Hutson as the new Western Lake Erie Basin Project coordinator.
The conference concluded with a presentation on NutrientStar by Karen Chapman from Brookside Laboratories. NutrientStar is a science-based review program for nutrient management tools. It uses data aggregation to provide adaptive nutrient management information to growers.