Cover Crops Grow Ohio Farmers' Ag Man of the Year

Buckeye Farm Beat

In the Year of the Rain Drops the work of cover crops king David Brandt stands out.

Published on: December 21, 2011

The last couple of years I have named an Ohio Agriculture Person of the Year. In 2009 the passage of Issue 2, the creation of the Livestock Care Standards Board, made Jack Fisher, president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation an easy choice. Then in 2010 the work done by ODA and Director Robert Boggs to implement the LCSB statute earned him the title. This year I'm picking Dave Brandt, the conservation-minded farmer from Carroll, Ohio, who has spent countless hours over the last few years showing farmers here and in other states what cover crops do and how you grow them.

The choice is kind of ironic in that I suspect there were fewer acres of cover crops planted in Ohio this year than last year because of the fall rains. Certainly there were fewer acres planted than guys had planned to plant because of the wet weather. If we were putting a name on 2011, it'd be hard to call it anything but the Year of the Rain Drops. By early December the state record for precipitation 70.82, established in 1870, had been washed away by weather stations at three places in southwestern Ohio. On Dec. 6 at Cheviot, near Cincinnati, precipitation totals reached 73.81 inches – 3 inches more than what Little Mountain, near Cleveland, reported 140 years ago. By year's end I have no doubt every station in the state will have set a new record for rainfall.

RADISH FAN: Brandt has experimented with various types and combinations of cover crops. Here he shows the early development of tillage radishes.
RADISH FAN: Brandt has experimented with various types and combinations of cover crops. Here he shows the early development of tillage radishes.

I have been fortunate to live in the same county as Dave and been invited frequently to the farm to see what he's working on. I've learned too as I watched his interest and expertise in cover crops develop. I said earlier in a post that if I had a dollar for every photo I've taken of Dave with a shovel in his hand I could buy a new camera. I have old fashioned slides of Dave digging up Austrian pea plants to show me the nodules on the roots. I have shots of him offering a shovelful of roots and soil to farm tour visitors on a tour. I have a shot of Dave with one of his first tillage radishes – the size of a turnip on steroids – on the blade of a shovel.

DIGGING IT: Even when Brandt doesnt have a shovel in his hand there is evidence that he has been using one recently.
DIGGING IT: Even when Brandt doesn't have a shovel in his hand there is evidence that he has been using one recently.

As the continuous president of the Ohio No-till Council, Brandt presided at the Ohio No-till Conference last month. Speakers included Barry Nelson, Indiana state agronomist, and Brian Lindley, executive director of No-till on the Plains. In accordance with the conference's theme of "Green and Growing Can Secure the Soil" both speakers noted the value of adding a cover crop to the no-till system. "The average field might have as much as 2% organic matter," said Lindley. "Our native prairie soils had more like 5 or 6% organic matter. We have got to close that gap and cover crops will help."

While Ohioans faced record rainfall last year, Lindley showed slides of hugs dust storms that swept across the plains this summer. "We can build organic material," he said. "But we also have to protect what we have. It's not just rain or wind that is causing erosion; it's the farmer who is using inadequate tillage practices."

SPOKESMAN: Brandt has spoken all across the country in the last year. He talks in terms that farmers like the ones at this wagon tour on his farm last summer understand.
SPOKESMAN: Brandt has spoken all across the country in the last year. He talks in terms that farmers like the ones at this wagon tour on his farm last summer understand.

Fisher urged farmers to find ways to create a healthy soil environment. "We have to get our soils functioning again. We have been mining the organic matter for 110 years," he said. "Soil is a living thing. You need a strategy to manage its diet. Choose a cover crop that is going to complement the crop you are planting into it."

Both also had kind words for Brandt. "He's a jewel. We get him over to talk every time we can," Lindley says. "He's a communicator. Farmers listen. He talks their language and he has experience to back it up."

"Dave Brandt is recognized and admired by farmers across the Corn Belt," Fisher says. "He's stepped for no-till and he's put a farmer face on cover crops too."

Brandt says he thinks cover crops turned a corner this year. "There's lots of interest and lots of growth," he says. "With fuel costs and fertilizer costs going up, guys realize it makes a lot of sense. And some guys have reached a yield plateau and recognize that to get to the next level they have to focus on soil health. So anytime I spread the message about cover crops, I am happy to do it.

In the past year Dave and Kendra Brandt have hosted five fields days. He has attended 15 others. And he has spoken at seven conferences from New York to Nebraska.

Randall Reeder, retired OSU agronomist, says Dave is always willing to step up and speak out. "Cover crops are the hot topic and Dave is the go-to guy."

That's why he's the Ohio Farmer's Ag Person of the Year.