Cover crops are turning heads in Huron County, whether it’s a crop no one has seen before, or it’s a colourful field with sunflowers or crimson clover. The County of Huron is helping agricultural producers to adopt these new practices to conserve soil through an incentive program.
Producers jumped on board in a big way in 2015 when the Huron County Clean Water Project introduced a cover crop incentive category. Farmers in Huron County then outdid themselves in 2016 by planting even more cover crops with support of the county program. The county-funded program provided support for 71 completed cover crop planting projects for a total of 4,637 acres in the first year of the cover crop category. That was a pretty successful first year, according to staff, and the next year was even better. Huron’s farmers completed 81 cover crop planting projects in 2016 and planted more than 6,000 acres with grant support from the county program. There has been more than $100,000 provided for cover crop incentives over the incentive category’s first two years in Huron County. The total project value is more than that.
The cover crop incentive category is now back for its third year. A phone call or email to the conservation authority is all it takes to get an application started, according to staff delivering the program. Most application forms can be completed over the phone. Grants are $10 per acre to a maximum of $1,000 per farm operation per year. The cover crop mix needs a minimum of three species and the field must have a minimum 50 per cent residue before next year’s crop is planted.
What’s above the ground is eye-catching but the roots below the ground are also doing their job. “Cover crops help to improve soil structure, increase organic matter, prevent erosion, maintain topsoil, protect water quality, and help to make food production more sustainable over the long term,” said Kate Monk, Manager of Stewardship, Land and Education at Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA). While most producers plant cover crops after wheat harvest, an increasing number plant after soybeans or into standing corn. Wherever it fits into the rotation, the practice is catching on quickly in Huron County. “Cover crops help protect soil from erosion from heavy rains and they work well with windbreaks year-round,” said Doug Hocking, Water Quality Specialist at Maitland Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA).
The Huron County Clean Water Project is also focusing on erosion control projects this year. “Projects to control erosion provide many benefits such as preserving topsoil, keeping nutrients on the land and out of creeks, and they provide economic benefits as well,” according to Monk.
People in Huron County are applying for $5,000 grants to help with the costs of erosion control projects such as berms and inlets. Nearly 200 erosion control projects have received grants since 2004. The berms reduce erosion in low draws by holding water behind an earthen berm for a short period of time and releasing it slowly through a tile.
The Huron County Clean Water Project provides grants for 16 categories of water quality projects. Landowners and community groups in Huron County have completed almost 2,400 projects over the past decade with the county support. The total value of those projects is more than $9.4 million. That’s good for water quality and good for the economy, according to staff delivering the program.
The county program has had more than ten years of success but staff say they aren’t relaxing. They want to build on the foundation of success by encouraging more projects by more people. The Huron County Clean Water Project 2017 campaign to raise public awareness and encourage new projects includes promotional postcards, print and broadcast media, and a social media campaign. Stewardship staff from Maitland Valley and Ausable Bayfield conservation authorities will also be promoting grants from the county program at the International Plowing Match and Rural Expo in Walton from September 19 - 23, 2017. “The people of Huron County should be very proud of all they have accomplished in more than ten years of projects supported by the Huron County Clean Water Project,” said Hocking. “We are increasing promotion starting this summer because we want to keep the momentum going to benefit water quality for everyone.”
To learn about grant rates and eligible projects you are invited to phone Maitland Conservation at 519-335-3557 or Ausable Bayfield Conservation at 519-235-2610 or toll-free 1-888-286-2610. You may also find out more online at huroncounty.ca or mvca.on.ca or abca.on.ca.
Huron County residents have, with support of Huron County Clean Water Project: fenced cattle out of 20 kilometres of streams; planted 700 acres of trees; established 150 kilometres of windbreaks; upgraded 366 private wells; decommissioned 506 unused wells; decommissioned 91 liquid manure storages; completed 59 Forest Management Plans; completed 643 tree planting projects; completed 192 erosion control projects; and planted more than 10,000 acres of cover crops in the first two years of the cover crop incentive category.
The Huron County Clean Water Project provides grant support for water quality projects in a number of categories including: Cover Crop Incentives; Erosion Control Measures; Special Projects; Living Snow Fences; Clean Water Diversion; Fragile Land Retirement; Livestock Fencing; Manure Storage Decommissioning; Community Projects; Forest Management Plans and Woodlot Enhancement; Composting Toilets; Wellhead Protection; Well Decommissioning; Stewardship Guide Implementation; Wetland Restoration Incentive Program; and Municipal Wellhead Protection Area Reforestation Projects.