Find information to help you answer these questions in Selection and Management, but above all, consult local expertise, including other farmers. A cover crop is anything that is planted in order to literally “cover” a piece of land that is not in use. Is it too wet in the spring? Cover crops protect water quality by curbing soil erosion and reducing nitrogen losses by an average of 48%. The number of farms planting cover crops increased 15.2% from 2012 to 2017. These crops add fertility to the soil without chemical fertilizers via biological nitrogen fixation. A cover crop can offer a natural way to reduce soil compaction, manage soil moisture, reduce overall energy use, and provide additional forage for livestock. The SARE bulletin Cultivating Climate Resilience on Farms and Ranches has more information on the role of soil health in climate risk management. Cover crops have a surprisingly wide array of benefits and no serious drawbacks. Find more information by reading Crop Rotation on Organic Farms and Managing Cover Crops Profitably, reviewing the Crop Rotations page of this topic room, and consulting local expertise. Legumes differ in their productivity and adaptability to soil and climatic conditions. Learn more. Many research studies around the world demonstrate that cover crops can increase yield. Planting radishes will: • Retain soil moisture • Reduce erosion • Reduce soil compaction • Add organic material to the soil • Root channels allow for the soil to dry out and warm up faster in the spring • Reseeds if allowed. Find out about cover crop planting times in this article. Let’s begin our discussion with the cover crop. A cover crop is a crop you grow for the soil, instead of for your plate. “Coarse And Fine Root Plants Affect Pore Size Distributions Differently.” Plant Soil, vol. This publication details the opportunities for cover crops in conventional arable rotations. Reduce the amount of water that drains off a field, protecting waterways and downstream ecosystems from erosion. | Photo by Jason Lilley The benefits of cover crops. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. Cover crops are plants grown outdoors for the purpose of enhancing the quality of the soil. While all cover crops provide many of these benefits, some species or “cocktails” (cover crop mixes) are better than others, depending on your specific objectives. There is an increasing body of evidence that growing cover crops increases resilience in the face of erratic and increasingly intensive rainfall, as well as under drought conditions. The Why Of Planting Cover Crops A fall cover crop is a must for a great garden, It not only replenishes minerals and stops erosion, but also loosens the soil and eliminates next year’s weeds. ). Cover crops, such as fall rye, crimson clover, buckwheat and others are easy to grow. According to an analysis of yield data collected in a national cover crop survey, farmers can expect a 3% increase in their corn yield and a 4.9% increase in soybeans after five consecutive years of cover crop use. A radish cover crop is a great choice for many reasons. Cover crop mixtures offer the best of both worlds by combining the benefits of grasses and legumes, or using the different growth characteristics of several species to fit your needs. Non-legume cover crops include the cereals (rye, wheat, barley, oats, triticale), forage grasses (annual ryegrass) and broadleaf species (buckwheat, mustards and brassicas, including the forage radish). Cover crop definition, a crop, usually a legume, planted to keep nutrients from leaching, soil from eroding, and land from weeding over, as during the winter. Compared to pure stands of legumes or non-legumes, cocktails usually produce more overall biomass and nitrogen, tolerate adverse conditions, increase winter survival, provide ground cover, improve weed control, attract a wider range of beneficial insects and pollinators, and provide more options for use as forage. After it is dry, the remaining organic matter is usually tilled into the soil. In organic no-till farming, use a roller-crimper to kill the cover crop and leave the mulch on the soil surface to conserve water. A cover crop is a crop of a specific plant that is grown primarily for the benefit of the soil rather than the crop yield. While your garden soil is lying dormant, cover crops can prevent your precious dirt from becoming unproductive. They provide habitat for soil life such as fungi, bacteria, protozoa, and critters like worms. Cover crop cocktails, a mixture of several species and plant types, provide different rooting patterns and varying plant architecture to add diversity to the system. Consider creating a new rotation or modifying an existing one to accommodate your long-term objectives for planting cover crops. Although seeding and management of cover crop mixes or “cocktails” can become more complicated, planting them allows you to attain multiple objectives at once. Cover crops maintain and improve soil fertility in a number of ways. Check out our interactive infographic, What is Soil Health, to learn more about the relationships between on-farm practices, soil health benefits and the complex web of life within the soil. Cover crops take up water (via evapotranspiration) and usually allow you onto the field earlier than if you did not have a cover crop growing. A popular legume cover crop, hairy vetch is commonly used in vegetable gardens and is valued for its nitrogen-fixing ability. Improve biodiversity by increasing the variety of species in a given area. “Attracting Birds.” National Wildlife Federation. Cover Crops. A bumblebee on hairy vetch, which is often used as a cover crop. Cover crops take very little labor while also adding organic material to your soil. Cover crops are one of the most effective ways to improve soil health, reduce outside inputs, and protect natural resources. Not only will a cover crop strengthen soil with nutrients, it helps to loosen it for better root growth. Determining when cover crops pay for themselves is not as simple as comparing the added first-year costs with the return on the following crop. The practice of growing specific crops just for fertilizing and building the soil dates back to the Roman Empire. A cover crop is a non-cash crop grown primarily for the purpose of ‘protecting or improving’ between periods of regular crop production. The SHP field team is a resource in helping SHP farmers understand how to adapt to cover crops in their geography. To learn more about non-legume cover crops, read the Overview of Non-Legume Cover Crops section of Managing Cover Crops Profitably or consult with local expertise. However, beyond seed selection, cover crops are cover crops. Cover Crops: Ecosystem Services from Cover Crops, Cover Crops at Work: Covering the Soil to Prevent Erosion, Cover Crops at Work: Increasing Infiltration, Cover Crops at Work: Keeping Nutrients Out of Waterways, Cover Crops at Work: Increasing Soil Organic Matter, Cover Crops Improve Soil Conditions and Prevent Pollution, Impact of Cover Crops on Natural Enemies and Pests, Cover Crop Effects on Deer and Other Mammalian Wildlife, Cover Crop Effects on Songbirds and Game Birds, Cover Crops: Soil and Fertility Management, Library of Images, Illustrations and Presentations, Cover Cropping for Pollinators and Beneficial Insects, Agroecological Strategies to Enhance On-Farm Insect Pollinators. 133-151., doi:10.1007/s11104-014-2079-8, Wen. Small farmers choose to grow specific cover crops based on their needs and goals and the overall requirements of the land they are working. You can usually reduce your nitrogen fertilizer inputs following a legume, but they are not very good at scavenging nitrogen that is left over after your cash crops. Take-home message. Cover Crop Planting Times They can begin to pay for themselves in the first year of use, or it may take a few years for them to lead to a net positive return. There are many benefits the permaculture gardener can get from using cover crop planting. See more. Or, incorporate the cover crop into the soil (sometimes called a green manure) before planting your main crop. Grasses – Rye, Wheat, Barley, Oats, Sorghum, Corn, etc. For in-depth resources, visit the website listed in each section. No-till farming or other conservation agriculture systems are good opportunities to plant cover crops. Learn more in the SARE bulletin Cover Crop Economics: Opportunities to Improve Your Bottom Line in Row Crops. It’s any crop grown for the protection and enrichment of the soil. Flowering cover crops can provide food and habitat for important pollinators and beneficial insects. Lauren Arcuri is a freelance writer and an experienced small farmer based in rural Vermont. 101, 2017, pp. Even though there are troubles with cover crops, they are an important piece of the sustainability puzzle in agricultural systems. Find out more information about cocktails and cover crop mixes in the Grass/Legume Mixes chapter of Managing Cover Crops Profitably. The content on this page is available as a topic brief (PDF download), Cover Crops for Sustainable Crop Rotations. This is a visible reminder that growing a food crop consumes considerable organic matter. Cover crops are tilled under in late winter or early spring. See the Soil and Fertility Management section of this topic room or Building Soils For Better Crops for more information on building soil health by using cover crops and other practices on your farm. Cover Crops – sometimes called green manures – are plants that are used primarily to help improve a location, primarily because of the advantages they bring to the soil. Scroll down for further resources. Combining several cover crop species in a mix may be an option to achieve multiple goals with a cover crop. The amount and availability of nutrients from cover crops will vary widely depending on such factors as species, planting date, plant biomass and maturity at termination date, residual soil fertility, and temperature and rainfall conditions. The huge roots can penetrate compacted subsoil, and when the plants die from cold temperatures, the rotting radishes improve the soil. Plant a non-legume whenever a field has excess nutrients, particularly nitrogen. … In our garden, we see the soil level drop about 3 – 4” in each bed after the vegetable crops are harvested. Learn how you can use cover crops to slow erosion, boost soil health, scavenge and hold nutrients, improve water quality, and control pests, weeds, and diseases. It also gives weeds less opportunity to establish, meaning cleaner beds for sowing or planting in spring. Cover crop roots hold the soil in place to prevent erosion. A cover crop is a plant that is used primarily to slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, smother weeds, help control pests and diseases, increase biodiversity and bring a host of other benefits to your farm. Do you know a reliable source for cover crop seeds, what will the weather be like, can you get into the field, do you want it to winterkill, and what labor and equipment will you need? Find examples of farmers using cover crops to combat insect pests and weeds in the Pest Management section of this topic room. Plant cover crops in organic farming to provide nitrogen, manage weeds and improve soil health. “Building Soils for Better Crops, Third Edition.” Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. These types of crops are also used in landscaping to enhance the look of a property. Cover crops: Cover crops are an important part of sustainable agriculture. Keeping soil covered over winter protects it from erosion and helps support all the beneficial life associated with it. 380, 2014, pp. Cover crops are used for a wide variety of reasons, from green manure to soil improvement to weed control. For more information on how to attract pollinators to your farm using cover crops, see the comprehensive SARE bulletin, Cover Cropping for Pollinators and Beneficial Insects. Bodner, G., et al. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. Cover crops grown in summer are often used to fill in space during crop rotations, help amend the soil, or suppress weeds. They help make soil fertile, prevent erosion, regulate water, reduce weeds, increase biodiversity, and improve farming as a whole. “Potential And Limitations Of Cover Crops, Living Mulches, And Perennials To Reduce Nutrient Losses To Water Sources From Agricultural Fields.” U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since the early 1900s, farmers have used cover crops to restore fertility to worn-out land. Here we summarize some of it and provide an introduction to many of the benefits of growing cover crops. The diversity is valuable for building microbial and physical soil function. If large amounts of nitrogen are left in the soil from the summer crop or due to a history of manure applications, non-legumes can scavenge upwards of 150 pounds per acre. A cover crop can improve the health of your soil, resulting in a significantly larger, healthier cash crop for the next growing season. Better synchrony of cover crops with crop insurance programs (since it is widely known that this can be a challenge for producers and that conservation can reduce climate risks!) You will, of course, use different varieties for best results. Pest-fighting cover crop systems help minimize pesticide use, and as a result cut costs and reduce your chemical exposure. What is a Cover Crop? Non-legumes are most useful for scavenging nutrients, providing erosion control, suppressing weeds and producing large amounts of residue that adds soil organic matter. With careful attention to cultivar choice, placement and timing, cover crops can reduce infestations by insects, diseases, nematodes and weeds. Are you looking for winter cover crops to scavenge nitrogen, summer cover crops to break soil compaction, a window in a small-grain rotation to supply much needed nutrients, or even a full-year cycle to improve soil or suppress weeds? Cover crops enhance biodiversity on the farm and contribute to a healthier ecosystem in many ways. Their roots can even help unlock some nutrients in the soil, converting them to more available forms. A cover crop is a crop that is planted in order to combat issues such as soil erosion, soil moisture, pests, crop diseases, and more. Cover crops that attract and retain beneficial insects—when allowed to flower—include buckwheat, clovers (crimson, red, white, sweet) and brassicas. For a detailed analysis of when cover crops begin to pay in different management scenarios, check out the SARE bulletin Cover Crop Economics: Opportunities to Improve Your Bottom Line in Row Crops. If you use no-till farming, the cover crop mulch increases water infiltration and conserves moisture into the summer. Whether you are just starting with cover crops, or have some experience growing them, the SARE Cover Crop Topic Room has a wealth of information you can use. Over time, this investment leads to lower costs and, sometimes, increased revenue. Cover crop effects on agricultural pests are multi-faceted. Help break disease cycles by reducing the amount of bacterial and fungal diseases in the soil. “Summer Cover Crops.” North Carolina State University. However, cocktails often cost more, can create too much residue, may be difficult to seed and generally require more complex management. Cover crops are plants grown to protect or improve the ground for future crops. Moncada, Kristine M. "Risk Management Guide For Organic Producers." Alternatively, if facing drought or practicing dryland farming, cover crops still help boost yields while being very efficient with water use. Cover crops are often used to help ‘repair’ soil that has been depleted or eroded. Winter wheat makes a good grain for use as a overwintering cover crop Using Cover Crops to Improve Drainage. In Michigan, for example, some potato growers report that two years of radish improves potato production and lowers pest control costs. Examples of plants that have proven to be effective cover crops include: “Cover Crops - Keeping Soil In Place While Providing Other Benefits.” U.S. Department of Agriculture. They can also support birds and other wildlife. “Cover Crop Species And Mixtures.” Kansas State University Research and Extension. SHP supports healthy cover crop adoption that is sustainable and works for the farmer. A cover crop is a plant that is used primarily to slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, smother weeds, help control pests and diseases, increase biodiversity and bring a host of other benefits to your farm. A cover crop is just what it sounds like: a crop that covers the soil of your garden during the off-season. A cover crop is a crop of a specific plant that is grown primarily for the benefit of the soil rather than the crop yield. These crops can also fix nitrogen levels in the soil.. All with a planting that takes mere minutes! Cover crops are a critical tool for farmers. The Agriculture Department of the University of Tennessee defines a cover crop “as a living ground cover that is planted to protect the soil…it may be planted into or after a main crop and killed before the next crop is planted.” Finally, something simple to understand. To learn about other methods of attracting beneficial insects, read Agroecological Strategies to Enhance On-Farm Insect Pollinators from Managing Insects on Your Farm. 2010. 1918-1928., doi:10.1094/PDIS-07-16-1067-RE. The roots of cover crops also provide structure to the soil to prevent compaction from the weight of snow and beating rains. Evidence is mounting that cover crops help stabilize yields and improve moisture availability in the face of increasingly erratic weather. For more information on using cover crops to address erratic weather events, visit the Water Management page of this topic room. As with all cover crops, make sure planting and termination times of the cover crop mix are in line with recommendations by NRCS, Risk Management Agency and crop insurance. When planted as a fall cover crop, non-legumes consistently take up 30-50 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Cover crop residue helps control weeds, which is especially important in organic no-till agriculture. If a legume fits your cover crop objectives, seek additional information in the Overview of Legume Cover Crops section of Managing Cover Crops Profitably or with local expertise to identify the best ones for your conditions. They are plants that are grown to suppress weeds, help build and improve soil, … No one ought to try to grow mustard as a cover crop in 100ºF weather! Do you want to add nitrogen to your soil, increase organic matter to improve soil health, reduce erosion, provide weed control, manage nutrients, and/or conserve soil moisture? Also, see the Ecosystem Services from Cover Crops page for information on how cover crops protect water quality. Cover crops can help improve soil quality, save manure nitrogen or fix nitrogen for the following crop, supply rescue forage and can lead to improved ground and surface water quality. Cover crops add organic matter to the soil, and add nitrogen in a slow-release way that plants can handle, leading to less nitrogen volatilization (read: waste! Protection against soil loss from wind and water erosion is perhaps the most obvious soil benefit, but providing organic matter is a more long-term and equally important goal. Use the Order button on this page to order free hard copies. The main objective of the study was to evaluate how the addition of a summer cover crop affects the subsequent winter pasture production in either a tillage or no-tillage system. 2019-38640-29881. Additionally, hairy vetch is impressively versatile and resilient; it’s a good choice in cold climates and drought conditions, and it … A cover crop is any plant grown for the primary purpose of improving the soil. When crops are grown in this manner, soil fertility, water, weeds, pests, and diseases are effectively managed. The yield benefit is often apparent after just one year of using cover crops, and farmers will start to see other benefits, such as improved soil health, after several years of using them in crop rotation. A Regional Guide to Cover Crops to Banish the Bare Ground, How Nitrogen-Fixing Plants Can Perk Up Your Garden, How to Grow Sorghum-Sudan Grass as a Cover Crop, 32 Companion Plants to Grow With Your Peppers, 7 No-Cost Ways to Grow More Food From Your Garden, Skip the Rake and Leave the Leaves for a Healthier, Greener Yard, 9 Products That Help Gardeners Create Healthy, Organic Soil, Cover Crops - Keeping Soil In Place While Providing Other Benefits, Building Soils for Better Crops, Third Edition, Coarse And Fine Root Plants Affect Pore Size Distributions Differently, Suppression Of Soilborne Diseases Of Soybean With Cover Crops, Potential And Limitations Of Cover Crops, Living Mulches, And Perennials To Reduce Nutrient Losses To Water Sources From Agricultural Fields, Risk Management Guide For Organic Producers. A cover crop is a closely-grown crop that grows to reduce soil erosion, improve soil texture and increase water availability rather than for the purpose of being harvested. A cover crop’s tight canopy protects the soil from the drying and scouring effects of wind and the forceful impact of heavy rain. There may be a role for cover crops in almost all rotations, but the diversity of cropping systems precludes addressing them here. Here is a list of the utilities of cover crops. In other situations, such as when using them to alleviate compaction or to improve nutrient management, a payoff is more likely in the second or third year. Boquet, Donald. Legumes also help prevent erosion, support beneficial insects and pollinators, and they can increase the amount of organic matter in soil, although not as much as grasses. Also remember that there is likely no single cover crop that is right for your farm (see Cocktails or Mixtures, below). Cover crops are typically grasses or legumes but may be comprised of other green plants. Most often, a cover crop is grown in the off-season before the field is needed for growing the cash crop. In essence, a cover crop readies the land for an incoming cash crop. Cover crops were planted on 15.4 million acres in 2017, a 50% increase over five years. Using hot weather cover crops is very similar to using cool weather cover crops. To select cover crops for your operation, first identify your primary objectives for adding them to your system. SARE Outreach operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Maryland to develop and disseminate information about sustainable agriculture. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. Once a cover crop is fully grown, or the farmer wants to plant in an area that has a cover crop, the conventional technique is to mow down the cover crop and allow it to dry. Cover crops help when it doesn’t rain, they help when it rains, and they help when it pours! Definition of cover crop : a crop planted to prevent soil erosion and to provide humus Examples of cover crop in a Sentence Recent Examples on the Web Choose the cover crop — like legumes, clover, etc. Cover crops are commonly used … Depending on your conditions—including soil residual nitrogen status—you may not be able to reduce your nitrogen fertilizer inputs for the subsequent crop, particularly in the first few years of cover cropping. Christina Curell, cover crop and soil health educator at the Michigan State University Extension, said that farmers have used cover crops used since the 1950s to prevent erosion and strengthen soil. The cover crop mulch can increase water infiltration and also improve moisture availability by preventing evaporation. Added carbon and root channels, in addition to increased soil pore space, help improve soil water-holding capacity—in any tillage system. 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