What is a Cover Crop

A cover crop is vegetative cover that farmers use to protect their soil during the off-season of farming. Cover crops develop with several different crops that are cut away before the planting of the real crop.  Some crops I have seen planted as a cover crop are radishes, peas, turnips, and milo.  It is something to look into if you are not already doing it.

Reasons for a Cover Crop - Farming without one can cause poor soil health. 

 There is a traditional aspect to farming as practices are passed down from one generation to another.  I have met several third or fourth generation farmers that are still doing many things the way their grandfather did.  It is good to keep with tradition but it is also good to find more efficient ways to farm.  Not having a cover crop is inefficient.

Agricultural FieldsCredit: Charles Rondeau

Soil health is a vital part of having a successful farm.  When farmers leave their fields tilled and open to the elements it causes degradation of the dirt.  This can cause stress to plants and invite weeds.  Leaving the dirt bare or just in stubble for a season is common in farming.  After the last harvest, farmers will till the field or leave it in stubble so that it will be ready to plant in the spring.  There are definitely certain advantages to this practice but it ultimately promotes poor soil health.

Reasons for a Cover Crop - Benefits of having one

 Having a cover crop is part of conserving your soil.  Dirt and plants have a symbiotic relationship.  The soil provides nutrients for the plant and in return the plant can supply soil with nutrients, moisture, and stability. A cover crop can offer the following benefits.

Decrease erosion from wind and water.  The roots and canopy of the plants protect the soil from different types of erosion by holding the soil in place.

Enhance the organic matter in the dirt by providing more organic material when the cutting the crop.  The residue of the cut crop biodegrades and becomes a part of the soil.

The off-season plants reduce weed competition and natural chemical deterrents are provided by the cover crop

Manage soil moisture.  Cutting the cover crop can help keep the moisture in the soil before and after the planting season.  Cover crops also increase the amount of pores the surface soil has allowing for greater water infiltration.

Reduces soil compaction through the roots breaking up the soil. 

Global impact

Keeping a field tilled for several months of the year puts the soil at risk.  Soil is lifted away by wind erosion due to nothing holding it together.  It can also deplete moisture and nutrient levels.  Our planet is still facing a global food crisis due to loss of farmland and overpopulation.  If we continue to hurt our soil through inefficient farming practices then the food crisis will only get worse.

Climate change and excess carbon in the atmosphere will accelerate and increase if our soil is unable to store carbon. Particle matter released into the atmosphere,  results in wind induced soil erosion.  Keeping a plant in the dirt all year round can cut this risk.  The soil will be able to store carbon better and the plants can keep taking it in also.  An empty field will give non of these benefits.

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