It started with a familiar story: Unexpected weather. A missed planting date. A bare field. But it also looked like an opportunity to Lou Kozma and Bridget Burgess of Hirzel Farms. After all, Hirzel Farms in Wood County has been pioneering sustainability and trying new things for nearly 100 years.
One bare field has now become three fields-worth of cover crop demonstration trials. We invite farmers, researchers, and educators to join an online conversation, Thursday, August 4 at noon, about what questions we might be able to ask with these trials and the best ways to document the answers.
Meet the Three Fields
Field #1 (SHOP) is a 17.5 acre field that has been in long-term organic production. The Hirzel team has planted this field in a 16-species mix selected for weed suppression and nitrogen benefits.
Field #2 (ERIC) is a 52 acre in its 1st year of transition to organic certification. A cover crop of 20# sorghum sudangrass and 3# radish / acre was flown on a few weeks ago and has grown in nicely. The plan is to fly on a second round of overwintering cover crop species. Burgess explains that they are attempting to combine heat tolerant species and species that will have living roots over winter for increased soil biology and year-round soil protection.
Field #3 (PATCHEN) is a conventional 18-acre corn field behind the Hirzel Cannery in Northwood, Ohio. They have been farming around it for many years. For this field, they have planted 2 different mixes with a $15/acre difference in cost. They would like to see if the more expensive cover crop mix impacts subsequent years’ yields enough to justify the extra expense.
Other Possible Research Questions
Bridget is interested in weed suppression – always a top concern in organics – but also in improving soil health, particularly microbial activity. She’s especially interested in how multi-species mixes might add to increased biological activity, how quickly that can happen, and if costly efforts can be tapered off once the biology is initially increased in a field.
“What I like about this trial is that it’s good for long-term organic growers, transitioning growers, and even conventional growers,” says Burgess. She adds that cover crops are not just for field crops. They sell cover crop seeds for use in high tunnels, gardens, and other horticultural settings.
As funding for farm bill conservation assistance and other legislation for climate-smart farming moves forward, cover crop research and experimentation is a timely topic. We welcome any who would like to join us for this discussion.
This online event is part of the Organic Farmer-Research Network. We are a group of organic and transitioning growers, researchers, and educators from various Ohio organizations. We gather monthly online with the goal of building relationships among growers, educators, and researchers to further practical research that will support organic farmers and a healthy, robust food system. New participants are welcome to join us!