"ECO Farming stands for Eternal no-till, Continuous living cover, and Other best management practices," says Jim Hoorman, assistant professor with OSU Extension. "In other words, absolutely trying to eliminate tillage as much as possible."
Hoorman, along with Ray Archuleta of NRCS' East National Technology Service Center, Ohio No-till Council President Dave Brandt, and Mark Scarpiti, Ohio NRCS agronomist, collaboratively defined the ECO Farming concept. The team will introduce ECO Farming to producers at a series of field days throughout August.
"Continuous Living Cover means that farmers try to keep a living crop on the soil 100 percent of the time," Archuleta says. Examples include grain crops followed by cover crops, pasture or hay systems, or perennial plants. "The goal is to protect the soil from soil erosion, increase water infiltration, and decrease nutrient runoff."
Other best management practices include the concept of controlled traffic, water table management where applicable, manure management, and integrated pest management.
"The goal is to use an integrated system of conservation practices to solve environmental nutrient issues associated with hypoxia and eutrophication to improve water quality," Scarpiti says.
From an on-farm standpoint, Brandt has been practicing the concept for 15 years.
"I have reduced my fertilizer inputs by 50-70%, herbicide costs by 50%, and reduced my fuel consumption," Brandt says. "All while adding soil organic matter which improved my soil health and increased my crops' yields over the past 15 years."
"This system closely mimics natural cycles in virgin soils by feeding the microbes," says Hoorman, who also is an agriculture and natural resources educator for OSU Extension. "You have 1,000-2,000 times more microbes associated with live roots."
Plants supply 25 to 40 percent of their carbohydrate reserves to feeding the microbes, which in turn recycle nitrogen, phosphorus, and water back to the plant roots. This natural process improves soil structure and increases water infiltration and water storage.
The ECO Farming innovators insist that for farmers to accept this system, it must be economically viable, and in the long run should also be ecologically sound and environmentally sustainable. The system appears to have all three attributes.
"For 100 to 200 years, farmers have been tilling the soil and basically mining it of nutrients, destroying soil structure and losing 60 to 80 percent of soil organic matter," said Archuleta. "Now we can use advanced knowledge of soils, soil health, and soil ecology to work with Mother Nature rather than against her."
Farmers will have an opportunity to see ECO Farming demonstrated on the Dave Brandt farm, including two field days at 6100 Basil Western Road, Carroll, Ohio on Aug. 16 and 17, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Cost is $28 per day and attendees may register on-line at: https://www.regonline.com/816soilhealthcovercropsday
In addition, Jeff Rasawehr is holding an ECO Farming field day at 8820 Kuck Road, Celina, Ohio (Mercer County) on Aug. 19, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Attendees should register early for Rasawehr's field day by calling 419-586-2179. Lunch at this event is free.