Modern farmers have many tools to improve the productivity of their fields. Agriculture also strives to enhance soil care and farm sustainability. The leading agricultural technologies that are currently developing and transforming the industry allow farmers to be more informed about the condition of plants, soil moisture content, weather conditions, and other essential parameters.
Planting cover crops is also a widespread practice for soil conservation and regeneration. It has been used since the days of the Roman Empire, so we can say that it has stood the test of time. Cover crops can be quite beneficial to farms if they are selected correctly.
They play a vital role in preventing soil erosion and regulating soil moisture. In addition, cover crops attract insects that pollinate the plants. The use of this practice also helps to combat such threats to the crop as weeds and pests. In this piece, you will learn more about the types of cover crops and how to choose them to get the most benefit.
What is a Cover Crop?
Cover crops do not bring additional profit on their own. Their cultivation is not aimed at increasing profits, but for the long-term prospect of improving the condition of the soil. It is an investment in agricultural management that can be unprofitable in the first year of planting or bring a net profit in a few years. These plants can also be used as livestock feed.
Such kind of crops is planted to improve soil health and slow down erosion. In addition, these crops enhance water availability and help fight disease, weeds, and pests. Enhancing biodiversity is also one of the goals of using this practice.
As for increasing yields, cover crops help to increase the number of nutrients in the soil. In the future, this will help grow healthier main crops. In addition, these plants control the level of moisture in the ground, both in drought conditions and during heavy rainfall.
Cover Crop Benefits
There are several advantages to growing cover crops. Most of these benefits relate to improved soil quality, but that’s not all.
Cover crops can regulate the amount of water after cold season precipitation by absorbing. Their roots also help aerate the soil. In addition, these plants will maintain moisture for the main crops.
Ecosystem and Biodiversity Services
Cover crops are a way to develop and support biodiversity. During flowering, these crops attract useful insects, including various insects for pollination, creating a suitable habitat for them. Cover plants can also support bird and wildlife populations.
Soil Health and Fertility
Cover crop roots help prevent erosion from water and wind. In addition, these plants can convert nutrients and thus provide the main crops with the nutrition they need. By placing cover plants between rows, you can also get mulch that helps in weed control.
In addition to the beneficial effects on the soil, cover crops, depending on the variety, also help cope with pests, diseases, harmful insects, and other threats. Plants such as buckwheat, clover, and cabbage attract useful insects during flowering.
Certain plant species, including sudangrass, help kill soil pathogens. According to Michigan potato growers, growing radishes as a cover plant helps reduce the number of resources used for pest control. Cover crops also offer an opportunity to minimize chemical exposure on farms and reduce the use of pesticides.
Cover crops help maintain yields and improve water use in erratic weather. It also applies to agriculture in arid regions, as the roots of the cover plants retain moisture. By practicing no-till farming, you also allow the mulch of these crops to improve soil aeration. However, with any tillage method, added carbon and root channels increase water-holding capacity.
Cover Crops Types
One of the main benefits of growing legumes as a cover crop is nitrogen fixation. This way, you can reduce the use of nitrogen fertilizers. However, legumes don’t do an excellent job of keeping nitrogen back from your commercial crops.
This type of crop is also planted to prevent soil erosion and attract beneficial insects, including pollination. Compared to grasses, legumes are also able to enrich the soil with nutrients. By themselves, legumes are quite resistant plants that can adapt to different climatic and soil conditions and have high yields.
Examples: vetch, red clover, beans, crimson clover, peas.
Non-leguminous crops are mainly grown with soil nutrient control. They are beneficial where there is an excess of these substances, especially when it comes to nitrogen. Non-legumes can absorb over 150 pounds of nitrogen or fertilizer per acre. At the same time, they can assist in erosion control and weed control.
Examples: rye, forage grasses including forage radishes, triticale, wheat, cabbage, buckwheat, mustard, and oats.
Cocktails or Mixtures
Planting several types of cover crops can be a little more challenging than the previous two options. However, this approach has its advantage, as you can achieve multiple goals at once. Several types of plants offer you the benefits of both in your fields.
Cocktails are capable of producing more biomass, fixing more nitrogen, and attracting more beneficial insects. Moreover, you increase your chances of success in pest, weed, and disease control. If you use cover crops for livestock feed, you win again. However, every medal has its reverse. In this case, the “reverse” is that growing multiple species of cover plants is more expensive and more complicated.
Examples: Mixture of different legumes and non-legumes
Cover Crop Selection and Management
Before planting cover crops, consider what goals you are pursuing. Perhaps the soil on your farm needs nitrogen, or organic matter needs to be increased. Reducing erosion or controlling soil moisture may be your goal.
It is possible to create a separate cover crop growing system for each farm, depending on the location. In this case, consider the climatic conditions and soil composition. Depending on your needs, one type of cover plant may work for you. However, there is no one versatile crop. Remember that a cocktail can always provide many additional bonuses. The next step is to determine the best place and time to land.
Cover crops can help manage a variety of soil problems. In addition, it can help reduce the negative impact on the environment due to the ability of the cover plants to fix nitrogen. The choice of the plants depends on the location and needs of your farm. You don’t have to limit yourself to growing legumes or non-legumes cover crops. You can also mix plants as needed to achieve multiple goals.