H2Ohio Cover Crop Usage

Jamie Hampton, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Auglaize County, Ohio State University Extension

A collaborative approach to the issues facing Ohio’s water is how the H2Ohio website defines their program. Launched in 2019 as a water quality initiative to address the inflow of nutrients into the water system of northern Ohio, the H2Ohio program has grown. Starting with 14 counties in the Northwest corner of Ohio along the Maumee River watershed, the program originally included: Williams, Defiance, Paulding, Van Wert, Mercer, Fulton, Henry, Putnam, Allen, Auglaize, Lucas, Wood, Hancock, and Hardin Counties. The area has grown to include Seneca, Huron, Erie, Wyandot, Ottawa, Crawford, Marion, Richland, Sandusky, and Shelby Counties. 

With the expansion of counties, it will be beneficial to revisit some of the goals and guidelines associated with the best management practices (BMP) that the program recognizes. BMP’s are practices that help in the prevention or reduction in the amount of pollution generated by nonpoint sources. The H2Ohio program outlines 10 practices that they defer to for phosphorus reduction. Those practices are soil testing, variable-rate fertilization, subsurface nutrient application, manure incorporation, conservation crop rotation, cover crops, drainage water management, two-stage ditch construction, edge-of-field buffers, and wetlands.  Combining these practices with a Voluntary Nutrient Management Plan (VNMP), there could be benefits to the water system as well as the producer.

Cover crops go hand-in-hand with several of the BMP’s that H2Ohio uses, allowing for higher levels of control of the nutrient movement on your operation. Cover crops are beneficial when used with some of the BMP’s that H2Ohio recommends. With manure applications, cover crops are required when applied after July 1 and where a growing crop is not present. Cover crops are available to be used in a conservation crop rotation with small grains. Both BMP’s can be combined with the overwintering cover crop BMP. This allows for a stacking of cash payments. According to Emily Kramer at the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), you may stack BMP’s if they are “compatible” with each other, i.e., a producer could plant a small grain ($35/acre), apply manure and incorporate it ($35/ acres for litter and $60/acre for all other types of manure) and plant an over wintering cover crop $25/acre). They would be able to receive all 3 payments as long as all requirements of the program are met. This is just a single scenario, but one of the most common ones.

Overwintering cover crop is the use of a plant for the purpose of protecting and enriching the soil. The H2Ohio program has very specific guidelines for the use of cover crops in their BMP guidance sheet. The cover crop must follow all of these guidelines in order to qualify for the payment. The purpose of the overwintering cover crops is to reduce erosion and water quality degradation, and to increase cropping system diversity. This is applicable to crop land in the designated area that are not receiving payment under any other county, state or Federal program.

Specifications for the use of overwintering cover crops according to the All BMP Guidance Sheets (Exhibit B) include the following:

A producer must:

1. Establish overwintering cover crop no later than October 15.

2. The completed practice must meet the criteria for seeding, establishment, and maintenance per
    NRCS Appendix A, including seed quality and testing requirements.

3. Seed mix must include a minimum of 50% of full rate of an overwintering species.

4. Cover crop must be maintained until March 15.

5. Crop can be harvested as a forage or grazed after March 15.

6. Manure and/or fertilizer, based on the VNMP, may be applied prior to seeding or after March 15.

a.  Manure shall not be applied on frozen, snow-covered, or saturated soils or applied when the
     local weather forecast for the application area contains greater than a 50% chance of precipitation
     exceeding one inch in a 12-hour period.

b.  Fertilizer shall not be applied on frozen, snow-covered, or saturated soils or applied when the
     local weather forecast for the application area contains greater than a 50% chance of precipitation
     exceeding one inch in a 12-hour period.

7. Producers may apply for up to three years of this practice.

There are other responsibilities that come with using this BMP.  The producer will need to provide a VNMP to the SWCD, maps where cover crops are established, and seed tags or tests.  The SWCD will determine eligibility and exclude any acres that fall outside of the guidelines, enter all the information, and process the payment. 



Best Management Practices Guidance Sheet

Emily Kramer, SWCD, Auglaize County