Transitioning to Sustainable Agriculture Using Continuous No-Till and Cover Crops

Final Report for FNC09-775

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $18,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Summary:

PROJECT BACKGROUND
My group was comprised of 7 farm operations and 2 community service organizations. There were 5000 acres total involved.

Before the grant, our sustainable practices included some no-till and I did a little bit of cover cropping.

GOALS
• To prove the economic and environmental viability of continuous no till cover crop system.
• To reduce nutrient discharge into the watershed.

PROCESS
1. It is key to know which cover crops are needed for which purpose.
2. It is important to know how to spray and manage cover crops for planting.
3. It is key to know how to manage the nutrient credit.
4. Quality seed, quality support, and excellent management are the keys.

The inter-seeder is able to plant cover crops in standing corn. It was developed when Brother Nick Renner bought an old de-tassling machine and rigged it. This original was merely a prototype, now it’s been developed and 6 machines now exist in Ohio and work with all crops.

Many crops were planted throughout this project. We planted things like cereal rye, annual rye, winter peas, red/crimson clover, tillage radish. This was all done by broadcasting/drilling.
We were able to produce 75lbs Nitrogen per acre.

In addition to farm plots, there were demonstration plots located at St. Mary’s Lake State Park. The public and wildlife refuge visitors viewed them. The plots can be seen from 219 Highway. We have a unique system called “cover crop walks” where the plots were small, (20 x 40 ft.) so people could walk right by and observe them.

PEOPLE
I worked with Brother Nick Renner, he was an active speaker at many events, worked many hours as a volunteer through NRCS and Soil and Water Conservation and he used a lot of this grant money for his machine to sow cover crops into a standing corn crop. He was able to plant many farmers’ fields on a test basis. Since then the interest in intercropping cover crops into standing corn has grown and two new and improved machines have been developed in the private sector.

Dave McNielan utilized his money to experiment with cover crops on a few hundred acres but has enjoyed enough success that he will cover crop all of his 1200 acres this year.

Brad Suhr was a spokesperson and has used his research money as a springboard to working with a company that improves the nitrogen application to reduce run-off and he is one of the first in the county to use the soil analysis from Cornell to assess the health of his soil.

Kevin Bettinger worked with multiple cover crops and mixes and is a high visable and active supporter of cover cropping.

Jim Hoorman utilized some grant money for the purpose of assessing with what cover crops and under what conditions manure could be applied.

Jeff Rasawehr was in numerous national farm magazines touritng the benefits of ecological ag and has developed a seed company, Center Seeds, and a garden unit, Sustain Seeds, to support cover cropping and ecological agriculture.

RESULTS
We found that cover crops are by far the best method to return the soil to a healthy, productive condition that will allow for maximum profitability with the least negative effects if not a net positive effect on the environment. The biggest positive result is the proliferation of the methods out into the greater farming community this quickly.

DISCUSSION
Cover cropping with no till is the way to go. I have spoken 4 different times since July 1 of last year. It has taught me to start a cover crop National Seed Distribution Network. See: centerseeds.com. We are also developing our own farm label on the Eco model. Advantages: it works, and this is its time. I would tell the farmer that this is the way of the future.

OUTREACH
We were on TV channels 25, 7, and 44. Made the National Magazines “Successful Farms” and “Farm Journal.” We hosted 2 field days. I have spoken 7 times to 1600 people (as of March 2012). I have given multiple talks in the Midwest, so many that I’ve lost count. I have spoken in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Alabama, Kentucky, Virginia, and Canada promoting my business mainly.

When I speak at seminars I promote my two businesses, “Sustain Seed” and “Center Seeds.” Sustain Seed is mostly for gardeners whereas Center Seeds is more commercial. I hand out brochures and answer questions. I’m a broker who has wholesalers in Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. I provide cover crop advice and seed for gardeners through Sustain Seed. One issue I’ve faced with Sustain Seed as it’s grown is that we’ve had to go mainly to online orders to save time. If I’m on the phone for an hour with a 20,000 unit customer, that’s fine, but I can’t be on the phone with a gardener for that long for a $5 order, so this saves a lot of time.

Research

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.