Cover crops are a variety of plants, planted into or after a cash crop for several reasons. Cover crops are primarily used to control erosion by water and wind, by creating an organic mulch layer that prevents soil loss. Fields under cover also experience improved aeration and water infiltration by breaking up compression and having an improved organic layer in the soil. Cover crops also recycle nutrients that would be lost through leaching or erosion, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and other micro-nutrients thus reducing the need of chemical fertilizers for cash crops.
Crop residue management is an umbrella term encompassing several tillage systems, including no-till, ridge-till, mulch-till, reduced tillage, and vertical tillage.
Residue management includes any tillage and planting system that covers 30 percent or more of the soil surface with crop residue after planting to reduce soil erosion by water. Conservation tillage systems offer numerous benefits that intensive or conventional tillage simply can’t match. It reduces labor and saves time, fuel and reduces machinery wear. It improves soil tilth (physical ability to support plant growth), increases organic matter (good as a nutrient source and improves soil moisture holding capacity), and reduces evaporation to improve water availability. Most important, it reduces soil erosion. Depending on the amount of residues present, soil erosion can be reduced by up to 90% compared to an unprotected, traditionally tilled field.
Water and sediment control structures or WASCOB consist of an earth embankment or a ridge and channel constructed across a slope and waterway to form a sediment trap and water detention basin. These help reduce gully erosion, trap sediment in the water, and reduce downstream flooding. Water and sediment control structures should be used with a combination of other practices designed to prevent soil erosion. Water and sediment control structures require engineering design before implementation.
Gypsum is a source of the essential plant nutrients Sulfur and Calcium and has significant benefits to water quality while improving soil health. Gypsum improves the structure of soils through a process called flocculation. Flocculation occurs when Ca overcomes dispersion effects of magnesium (Mg) and sodium (Na) by binding and re-aligning clay soil particles. These re-aligned soil particles lead to better water infiltration and less erosion. Gypsum can also help bind soluble phosphorus to soil particles keeping it in field and available to growing plants. Gypsum has historically been used in agriculture for many years as a calcium source that does not alter soil pH. Sulfur in gypsum also aids plants in photosynthesis and the uptake of nitrogen. The ability of gypsum to improve water quality and provide needed plant nutrients makes it a win win for the farmer and Lake Macatawa.
The MACC employs an Agricultural Technician, Rob Vink, that is available to provide one-on-one consultations and recommendations for conservation practices for farmers within the Macatawa Watershed. The MACC may also have financial assistance available through grants. Check the Current Programs page for more information.
Technical assistance, and possibly financial, is also available from the following organizations:
Ottawa Conservation District
16731 Ferris St
Grand Haven MI 49417
Allegan Conservation District
1668 Lincoln Rd
Allegan MI 49010
Ottawa County MSU Extension
12220 Fillmore St, Suite 122
West Olive MI 49460
Allegan County MSU Extension
3255 122nd Ave, Suite 103
Allegan MI 49010
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Grand Haven Service Center (housed with Conservation District): 616-842-5852 x3
Allegan Service Center (housed with Conservation District): 269-673-6740 x3