Cover crops making a comeback in Ontario fields
Brandon Coleman’s field near Kippen, Ont. may look like a failed sunflower growing experiment, but it's not. It’s a very precise attempt to help the soil that’s going to grow next year’s corn, beans or wheat crop.
“We are firm believers that after wheat, at least, you need something out there to keep it green, as long as we can,” said Coleman.
This is what’s known as a cover crop. In Coleman’s case, a combination of oats, peas and sunflowers to cover the soil between cropping seasons. Common practice decades ago that fell out of favour but is now making a comeback amongst Ontario farmers.
“Now, it’s more of a community concern. Let’s take care of our soil. Let’s produce food that’s healthy. Let’s keep our waterways and the life in them prolific, as well,” said Marg Kroes, who along with her husband, Jack, have been growing a cover crop of red clover for the past 10 years.
Covering the farmer’s fields instead of leaving them bare after harvest, helps to reduce wind and water erosion. It keeps the soil, and nutrients in the soil, out of area waterways. It also adds organic matter, improves fertility and reduces compaction in farmer’s fields.
“A lot of people are realizing that soil conservation is incredibly important and we need to protect what’s there, because they aren’t making more dirt,” said Coleman, whose family has been planting cover crops for the past three to four years.
“Organic material is incredibly important to us. It will get you through a tough year. Having a good soil structure in a limited rain or heavy rain year, helps that plant perform so much better,” he adds.
Through a funding partnership with the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA), more than 2,000 acres of cover crops have been planted in the Bayfield and Clinton area. Signs acknowledging the growing number of farmers protecting their soil and neighbouring streams, now dot the countryside.
“It’s really easy to drive by these fields and not pay much attention to what’s going on, but it’s pretty incredible what farmers are doing. We all play a role in protecting our natural resources and this is one simple thing farmers can do,” said Hope Brock, Healthy Watersheds Technician with ABCA.
Coleman and Kroes are both proud to display the new signs and say they will continue to grow cover crops for decades to come.
“To plant it, to grow it, it takes so little energy, but what it returns is abundant,” says Kroes.