Producers in 16 Ohio counties watched the skies, not for weather, but for seeds that will help improve soil and water quality and boost their bottom lines. Working with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, local soil and water conservation districts and the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, 235 farmers are planting cover crops on 21,709 Ohio acres. Approximately half of the acres have been planted through aerial seeding, which allowed for the seed to be planted without affecting crops still on the field. The remainder of the cover crops are being planted using conventional methods.
"The overwhelming response to this program is another example showing that farmers across Ohio are committed to improving water quality," says ODNR Director James Zehringer. "We will continue to support and initiate programs like this one that help producers manage the risk of adopting the new practices and provide them with the tools necessary to get the job done."
Cover crops are nationally recognized as a soil and water quality best management practice because they control erosion and maintain nutrients in the soil. ODNR program administrators estimate the cover crop planting could result in up to 30,000 tons of soil saved as well as 30,000 pounds of phosphorus and 60,000 pounds of nitrogen kept out of Ohio waters. Aerial seeding began in late September.
ODNR provided oversight for the program, including rule development and payment administration. Local SWCDs in 16 counties worked directly with farmers to sign up, evaluate and eventually verify fields had been planted. MWCD provided $320,871 in funding to assist farmers in planting cover crops on soils within the conservancy district, with priority given to fields that offered the highest potential for erosion into district waters.
"This program is as good as an investment as the MWCD can make," says Sean Logan, MWCD chief of conservation. "Cover crops not only conserve soil but ultimately help farmers in our watershed to save money by buying less fertilizer. We hope to assist in similar efforts for years to come."
The MWCD funding covered about 1/3 of the cost for each farmer to plant the cover crops. Local SWCDs worked to buy the seed in bulk and scheduled planes to seed from the air. Cover crops being planted are oats, rye, wheat and mixtures that included clover. ODNR administrators, local SWCD technicians and MWCD personnel will review the program and determine how best to continue and improve it in years to come.