Soil researchers and educators from Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences have collaborated on a newly updated Midwest Cover Crops Guide that can help growers learn how to improve the state’s water quality while improving soil health, increasing yields, lowering input costs and earning higher farm income.

Adding cover crops to field crops production can not only improve soil health, it can also benefit the environment, increase water quality and lower production costs, said Jim Hoorman, an Ohio State University Extension educator and an assistant professor studying cover crops, soil health and water quality issues.

Hoorman, along with OSU Extension educators Rafiq Islam, Alan Sundermeier, Curtis Young, Sarah Noggle and Randall Reeder and researchers from the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, assisted agronomists and researchers with the Midwest Cover Crops Council in revising the cover crops guide. The Midwest Cover Crops Council also includes members from several universities, including Ohio State, Hoorman said.

OSU Extension and OARDC are the outreach and research arms, respectively, of the college.

With all the increased interest in the impact of nitrogen and phosphorus on watersheds that drain into Lake Erie, this guide can offer really good insight to farmers on some of the benefits of using cover crops and how to grow them, Hoorman said.

The question of whether agriculture can significantly reduce off-site movement of soluble nutrients can be addressed through the use of cover crops, Hoorman said.

Experts say soluble phosphorus runoff from farms is an important cause of harmful algal blooms plaguing Lake Erie and other lakes in recent years. In August, a toxic bloom in western Lake Erie led to a two-day drinking water ban in Toledo.

“Cover crop roots improve water infiltration and reduce nutrient and water runoff,” he said. “Growers who plant cover crops and vegetative systems in agriculture will also find that it can tie up phosphorus in a stable phosphorus form that remains in the soil which can increase phosphorus use efficiency.”

Ohio soil test data using phosphorus speciation shows that phosphorus is tied up by calcium, magnesium, iron oxides and aluminum oxides, Hoorman said.

The Midwest Cover Crops Guide, second edition, is now available for $5 and can be purchased from OSU Extension county offices and through the Midwest Cover Crops Council at mccc.msu.edu.

The guide is 161 pages and includes information on how to introduce cover crops into field crops production, common types of cover crops to plant, climate considerations when planting cover crops and seeding rates.