Ashland County cover crop

This was the scene in 2019 for an Ashland County field that participated in cover crop.

ASHLAND — Reduced erosion. Improved water retention capacity. Better soil structure. Increased organic matter. The benefits of using cover crops on farm fields are hard to dispute.

But in times of tight farm margins like we’re seeing in 2020, farmers may need a little help footing the bill for conservation practices. That’s why Ashland SWCD is teaming up with the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District to help Ashland County farmers put cover crops in the ground this fall.

Aerial cover crop seeding

An airplane in Ashland County, in 2019, prepares to deliver aerial cover crop seeding.

While Ashland SWCD has partnered with MWCD to offer cost-share to producers in within MWCD’s jurisdictional boundaries for several years, last year the district and MWCD were able to team up to offer even more cost-share opportunities for farmers who are willing to take the next step to through a pilot soil health cost share program.

“Cover crops equal improved soil health,” said Erica White, Ashland SWCD technician and Jerome Fork watershed coordinator. “Better soil health leads to increased productivity.”

Last year alone, Ashland SWCD’s MWCD cover crop program made a huge impact on water quality in our region by preventing 8,934 tons of sediment from eroding into our waterways. In addition, those same cover crops kept 9,013 pounds of phosphorus and 18,034 pounds of nitrogen in Ashland farm fields and out of our streams and rivers.

For 2020, approved cover crop applications can receive $12/acre cost share for up to 200 acres of cover crops; farmers whose cropland drains directly into one of the MWCD lakes can enroll unlimited acres. In addition, the top scoring 600 acres in the county could be eligible for up to $20/acre cost share as part of the soil health pilot program.

“Erosion controlled reduced nutrient runoff are just a few of the great advantages of cover crops,” White said. “But looking at the increases in organic matter and microbial activity that come with year-round cover, farmers who use cover crops are investing in the future of their fields.”

In addition to the MWCD cover crop cost share, Ashland SWCD is also accepting applications for their aerial cover crop seeding program. Unlike the MWCD cost share, aerial seeding is available across the entire county. In this program, White coordinates a county-wide aerial seeding of cover crops the first of September.

The program has several benefits. Farmers can take advantage of group pricing for seed and aerial fly on. They can focus on their own fall harvest needs while White coordinates seeding for their farms. And finally, the early fly-on ensures that harvest weather challenges don’t prevent farmers from getting back in the field and planting cover crops after harvest.

But these are not the only programs Ashland SWCD uses to promote the use of cover crops; the district also rents its no-till drill at a reduced rate of $10/acre after July 1 to promote cover crop seeding.

This year, farmers in the Jerome Fork watershed can also utilize the Adapt-N nitrogen modeling tool that helps farmers identify how nitrogen moves spatially through the soil over time - even nitrogen from sources like cover crops.

The application deadline for the MWCD cover crop is July 2, and the deadline to apply to participate in the aerial seeding program in mid-August. Both applications can be submitted to White by appointment or by e-mail at ewhite@ashlandcounty.org.

For additional information on Ashland SWCD’s cover crop programs, visit the Ashland SWCD website at www.AshlandSWCD.com or the district’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AshlandSWCD.

Ashland SWCD was named the 2020 Soil and Water Conservation District of the Year by the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

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