A farming experiment in Crosby and Harrison townships has proven successful in improving soil quality and reducing the use of herbicides. Now the Hamilton County agency that helped facilitate it is encouraging other farmers and even home gardeners to give it a try.
In a study beginning in 2014, four of the largest farms in Harrison and Crosby townships planted cover crops in hopes of reducing erosion and retaining nitrogen and water in the soil.
Initially the seeds were dropped by air between corn and soybeans. But after drought conditions for the first two years, the farmers gently tilled them in or used no-till methods after harvest. The cover crop that worked best for them was rye.
Executive Director of the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District Holly Utrata-Halcomb says results of the study are "quite positive."
- 94 percent of the fields saw an increase in soil health
- Even during the drought there was significant growth due to water retention in the soil
- Farmers reduced their use of herbicides (insecticides were not addressed)
- At least one farm (Knollman) plans on doubling the number of fields using cover crops
During the first two years of the study, the cover crop seed was planted in September by air while corn and soybeans were still in the ground but, "Because the seed never really made it to the soil," says Utrata-Halcomb, "the farmers went to direct seeding after harvest."
Utrata-Halcomb says home gardeners can interplant the cover crop seed in early September. She says her agency sells cover crop seeds at cost.