Ohio State Team Promotes Nature-based 'ECO-farming'

Red clover cover crop

PIKETON, Ohio – A team of scientists and educators from Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences now spells farming with three extra letters.

The group studies, demonstrates and teaches about what it calls “ECO-farming,” a new approach aimed at boosting a farm’s production and profits while shrinking its environmental footprint.

“ECO-farming is a systems approach that employs all our current knowledge and technology about natural and sustainable management practices,” said team member Rafiq Islam, soil, water and bioenergy resources program leader at Ohio State’s South Centers in Piketon.

“In a nutshell, ECO-farming combines and complements continuous no-till, crop rotation, cover crops, and organic, recycled and natural soil amendments into a system to maximize ecosystem services.”

Some examples of those ecosystem services are biological pest control by beneficial insects, weed suppression by cover crops and greater soil fertility thanks to more microbes in the soil, he said.

Video: OSU Extension's Jim Hoorman explains the principles and benefits of ECO-farming.

“ECO-farming builds soil health and increases crops yields, reduces the use of reactive nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, reduces the use of synthetic chemicals, diversifies farm income, and improves air and water quality by controlling soil erosion and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions,” Islam said.

Excessive runoff of reactive phosphorus, for example, is thought to be behind the recent algal blooms that have plagued Lake Erie, western Ohio’s Grand Lake St. Marys and other water bodies in the state.

A professional development grant from the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program supports the team’s work. SARE is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The team will give a workshop on the topic, called “ECO-Farming, Biodiversity and Soil Health: A Systems Approach to Enhancing Productivity,” from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 14, as part of the 35th annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).

The pre-conference workshop takes place at Cherry Valley Lodge, 2299 Cherry Valley Road SE, in Newark. Pre-registration is required and costs $60 for OEFFA members and $70 for non-members.

The OEFFA conference itself, which requires a separate registration fee, is Feb. 15-16 in Granville.

To register for the workshop or the conference, go to http://oeffa.org/conference2014. For more information, call 614-421-2022.

Organizers call the OEFFA annual conference the largest sustainable food and farm conference in Ohio. More than 1,200 people are expected.

The ECO-farming team’s other members include Randall Reeder of the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering (FABE); Jim Hoorman of Ohio State University Extension’s Putnam County office; Brad Bergefurd of the OSU South Centers; Harit Kaur Bal and Kuhuk Sharma of the Department of Entomology; Alan Sundermeier of OSU Extension’s Wood County office; Vinayak Shedekar of FABE; George Derringer of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Ohio; Jerry Grigar of USDA-NRCS in Michigan; Jodi DeJong-Hughes of University of Minnesota Extension; Paul Jasa of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln; and Don Reicosky of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Minnesota.

Islam has an appointment with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC); Bergefurd, with OSU Extension. OARDC and OSU Extension are the college’s research and outreach arms, respectively.

Hoorman explains ECO-farming in a 2011 YouTube video available at http://go.osu.edu/ECO.

Islam said the E, C and O in ECO-farming’s name stand for:

  • Eternal no-till, which disturbs the soil as little as possible and promotes soil organisms and the work they do.
  • Continuous living cover, which means keeping a living, growing crop on the soil year-round. Islam said living plants and roots improve soil structure, soil hydrology, soil organic matter content, nutrient recycling, field workability, and air and water quality.
  • Other best management practices, including crop rotation, biological control, integrated pest management, and organic, recycled and natural soil amendments.

“ECO-farming is economically and environmentally viable compared with highly disturbed and energy-intensive conventional farming,” he said. “It mimics natural cycles.”

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CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Rafiq Islam
614-292-4900, ext. 147