By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — Farmers have been aware of cover crops for a long time, but they’ve become a hot topic in recent years as new research demonstrates multiple benefits.
The addition of oilseed radishes to the mix has really increased their popularity.
“The reason farmers like those oilseed radishes so much is because they grow quickly and you see fast results, because of how big these radishes get; they really break up compaction,” said Ryan Smith, natural resource specialist with the Butler Soil and Water Conservation District.
Jeremy Fruth and his dad, Oscar, farm 1,200 acres in Preble and Butler counties with corn, soybeans, wheat and 700 head of cattle. They have used cover crops and included tillage radishes in their mix. They liked their results.
“I liked what I saw as far as what the benefits were the next spring,” Jeremy Fruth said. “Some areas where we had erosion problems before, we saw that that had been diminished quite a bit, and the returns that we found in the fertilizer recovery were really beneficial to us.”
The tillage radishes create a large tuber. In the better soil under the right conditions and enough rain, the radishes can grow to six inches in diameter and 18 inches deep, Fruth said. After four or five days of 15- to 20-degree weather, the radishes die and begin to decompose.
“So it will go below the plow layer and do some beneficial things as well as gathering up phosphorous and potassium and eventually, creating nitrogen as it decomposes,” Fruth said.
“They leave a void and for the rest of the winter the freezing and the thawing helps work the soil loose and build a lot of soil tilth. We can either plant directly into that the next spring or use some conventional tillage practices to incorporate into the soil.”
The Fruths planted their cover crop, using a fertilizer spreader, into standing soybeans the second week of August and had good results, he said. The key was planting them early enough.
“There is a lot of engineering on new machinery that can drive through standing corn without disturbing the corn, to plant the radishes between the corn rows and planting in the soybean fields with the beans still standing,” Fruth said.
The seed can range from anywhere from $8-$40 an acre, depending on what mix and variety is used, he said. Some cover crop mixes have legumes mixed in that will add extra nitrogen the following year.
“Cover crops are being mentioned as a way to help reduce nutrient runoff and put more dollars back in the pocket,” he said. “As expensive as fertilizer is, that’s a big deal.”
“There are cost-share monies available (for cover crops) through different programs,” Smith added. “One of the programs is the Water Quality Credit Trading Program.
“Jeremy got funded through that program to plant these oilseed radishes, and also the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, EQIP, in the past couple of years, has allocated some money for cover crops.”