Sun hemp is just one example of a cover crop that can help improve soil health.
Sun hemp is just one example of a cover crop that can help improve soil health.

Farmers who plant cover crops can expect to see lower input costs and healthier soils for both crop and livestock production, according to a soil expert with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For crop producers, the benefits include lower pesticide use and more efficient use of soil fertilizer and nutrients, said Jim Hoorman, an Ohio State University Extension educator and an assistant professor studying cover crops and water quality issues. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.

“The increase in soil organic matter from cover crops results in improved water infiltration, less water runoff, improved soil structure, reduced soil compaction and ultimately higher yields for farmers using cover crops,” Hoorman said. 

The benefits of cover crops for livestock producers include growing and harvesting more forages, improved pastures and an extended grazing period, he said.

“Winter cover crops, especially grasses, are a viable alternative for the winter application of manure because the live crop improves water infiltration and the live fibrous roots are efficient at taking up soluble manure nutrients,” Hoorman said. “Farmers who plant cover crops can also expect to reduce soil erosion and cut down on nutrient losses.”

Hoorman will offer a workshop beginning next month in multiple locations on using cover crops to promote soil health for farmers and to provide additional forages for livestock producers.

The Cover Crop and Soil Health/Grazing Workshop and the Cover Crop Soil Health Workshop will be held in several sites, beginning with a workshop in Caldwell on Jan. 7, 2016.

Each workshop will be tailored to the local area: Workshops in the northwest, central and southwest areas will focus on cover crops after row crops; and in the southeast, the workshop will focus on cover crops for forages and grazing.

“The workshops will focus on how using cover crops leads to healthy soil microbes and improved soil health,” Hoorman said.

The workshop will offer growers an advanced marathon session on cover crops, with the opportunity to work hands-on with soils and seeds and learn about managing specific cover crops, he said.

Topics for the daylong workshop include:

  • ECO Farming: Ecological Farming Practices.
  • Soil Ecology and Nutrient Recycling.
  • Biology of Soil Compaction.
  • Soil Demonstrations.
  • Keeping Nutrients Out of Surface Water.
  • Economics of Cover Crops.
  • Using the Cover Crop Selector Tool.
  • Raising Homegrown Nitrogen for Fertilizer or for Forages.
  • Managing Grasses and Brassicas in Your Crop Rotation or for Forages.
  • Open Discussion: Using Cover Crops in Your Farming Operation.

The registration cost for each workshop is $35 and includes lunch, handouts, fact sheets and the new Midwest Cover Crop Field Guide. All workshops start with registration at 8 a.m. and last no longer than 4 p.m. at the following locations:

  • Jan. 7, OSU Extension East Regional Office, 16714 State Route 215, in Caldwell. To register, contact Clif Little, Extension educator, Guernsey County, 740-489-5310. The deadline to register is Dec. 30.
  • Jan. 14, Plaza Inn Restaurant, 491 S. Main St., in Mt. Victory. To register, contact Mark Badertscher, Extension educator, Hardin County, 419-674-2297. The deadline to register is Jan. 7.
  • Jan. 20, Wood County Fairgrounds, Junior Fair Building, 13800 West Poe Road, in Bowling Green. To register, contact Alan Sundermeier, Extension educator, Wood County, 419-354-9050. The deadline to register is Jan. 13.
  • Jan. 29, Madison County Engineer’s Office, 825 U.S. 42 North East, in London. To register, contact Mary Griffith, Extension educator, Madison County, 740-852-0975, ext. 13. The deadline to register is Jan. 22.

March 21, location to be announced. To register, contact Suzanne Mills-Wasniak, Extension educator, Montgomery County, 937-224-9654, ext. 109. The deadline to register is March 14.