A cover crop should be considered as a long-term investment in improving farm management and soil health. Plants that grow as cover crops are used primarily to reduce erosion, improve soil health, increase water availability, smother weeds, create a fertile environment, control pests and diseases, increase biodiversity, and more.
It has also been demonstrated that cover crops can also increase crop yields, break through a plow pan, improve soil nutrient levels and draw pollinators to farms. The growing evidence shows that cover crops can increase resilience in the face of erratic and increasingly intense rainfall, as well as under drought conditions. When it does not rain, cover crops help manage the moisture. When it pours, cover crops help manage the water!
Benefits of Cover Crops
There has been plenty of research done around the world demonstrating that cover crops increase yields. The yield improvement from cover crops is often evident as early as one year after planting, and they continue to improve soil health for many years.
Climate resilience and water availability
In these times of increasingly erratic weather pattern, there is a growing evidence that cover crops help stabilize yields and improve moisture availability. Cover crops takes up water (via evapotranspiration) and makes the field ready for one to plant crops sooner. Cover crops are very helpful when there is drought or dryland farming is practiced. It is to be noted that cover cropsuse water far more efficiently in times of drought.
Crop rotation that includes cover cropshelps in greater soil carbon sequestration, improvements in soil function, nutrient cycling, and pest control. This leads to greater water holding capacity, higher microbial biomass of Carbon and Nitrogen and enhanced soil respiration. Plantingsmall grains and Nitrogen-fixing cover crops together can be an effective management strategy to increase soil Carbon and improving the Nitrogen cycling processes, thereby reducing Nitrogen leaching while maintaining robust yields.
Long-Term Profitable Investment
Cover crops should be viewed as a long-term investment that gradually improves farm management in multiple areas. Over time, this investment leads to lower costs and, sometimes, increased revenue.
Management of soil fertility and cover crops
In addition to helping to improve soil fertility and health directly, cover crops catch nutrients before they are washed away or, in the case of legumes, add nitrogen. In some cases, their roots can help unlock some nutrients in the soil, converting them to more available forms.
Cover crops affect agriculture pests in many different ways. In addition to reducing insect, disease, nematode, and weed infestations, cover crops attract and maintain beneficial insects. Planting pest-controlling cover crops reduce pesticide usage, saving one money and decreasing exposure to chemicals.
Considering all of the above benefits, cover crops induced with appropriate crop rotation can build greater avenues for improving yields and ensuring sustainability in agriculture.