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Cover Crops Instead of Sunflowers At Whitehall Farm This Year

Winter rye
Chris Welter
Winter rye starting to grow in the sunflower field at Whitehall Farm

The sunflower field at Whitehall Farm outside of Yellow Springs didn’t get planted this year due to the coronavirus. Last week, something called a cover-crop blend was planted instead. The blend came from David Brandt's family company, Walnut Creek Seeds. Brandt is from Fairfield County, Ohio and has used cover crops since 1978. He has presented at numerous agricultural conferences about the benefits of cover crops.

Cover crops aren’t harvested like corn or soy. They’re more of an input. Some seasons, instead of leaving a field bare, some farmers will plant cover crops. In 2017, about 6% of Ohio Farmland used cover crops but that number is increasing. Cover crops help regenerate soil, and help prevent harmful nutrient runoff. Tecumseh Land Trust, a farmland preservation nonprofit, has its offices next to the sunflower field, and helped organize the planting. The blend includes winter rye, crimson clover, hairy vetch, and radish. Executive Director Krista Magaw says the field is a demonstration of good conservation practices.

“We're trying to give the sunflower field back a little bit of love. People enjoyed it so much. This is a mix that is really aimed to enrich soil that has been worn out of lots of organic matter.” Magaw says, “so it hopefully will rebuild the soil a little bit so you can grow better sunflowers in the future.”

Pollinators, like bees and butterflies, will also benefit when the cover crops bloom next spring. Researchers from Central State took samples of the soil and will do follow-up testing to see if the field’s soil health improves. The sunflowers will be planted next year around the Fourth of July.

Environmental reporter Chris Welter is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Chris Welter is an Environmental Reporter at WYSO through Report for America. In 2017, he completed the radio training program at WYSO's Eichelberger Center for Community Voices. Prior to joining the team at WYSO, he did boots-on-the-ground conservation work and policy research on land-use issues in southwest Ohio as a Miller Fellow with the Tecumseh Land Trust.