what is a cover crop

Or, incorporate the cover crop into the soil (sometimes called a green manure) before planting your main crop. 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. Because each root of the cover crop creates pores in the soil, cover crops help allow water to filter deep into the ground. “Summer Cover Crops.” North Carolina State University. Here we summarize some of it and provide an introduction to many of the benefits of growing cover crops. 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. Flowering cover crops can provide food and habitat for important pollinators and beneficial insects. … 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. All with a planting that takes mere minutes! 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. Use the Order button on this page to order free hard copies. Their roots can even help unlock some nutrients in the soil, converting them to more available forms. Although seeding and management of cover crop mixes or “cocktails” can become more complicated, planting them allows you to attain multiple objectives at once. A cover crop is anything that is planted in order to literally “cover” a piece of land that is not in use. A cover crop can improve the health of your soil, resulting in a significantly larger, healthier cash crop for the next growing season. 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. Cover crops play an important role in improving the health of an agroecosystem, which is a human-managed ecosystem used to produce food, fiber, or animal feed. Is it too wet in the spring? Consider creating a new rotation or modifying an existing one to accommodate your long-term objectives for planting cover crops. There are 4 types of cover crops. In Michigan, for example, some potato growers report that two years of radish improves potato production and lowers pest control costs. Cover crops, such as fall rye, crimson clover, buckwheat and others are easy to grow. 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. Cover crops were planted on 15.4 million acres in 2017, a 50% increase over five years. This publication details the opportunities for cover crops in conventional arable rotations. University of Minnesota. Farmers from across the country describing how they have successfully added cover crops to their cash crop rotations. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. 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. 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 add organic matter, improve the soil’s texture and structure, improve the fertility, help prevent erosion and attract pollinating insects. Winter cover crops help hold soil in place over the winter and provide ground cover. A bumblebee on hairy vetch, which is often used as a cover crop. Here is a list of the utilities of cover crops. The cover crop mulch can increase water infiltration and also improve moisture availability by preventing evaporation. Benefits of Cover Crops 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. 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. Cover crops are a critical tool for farmers. L., et al.  “Suppression Of Soilborne Diseases Of Soybean With Cover Crops.” Plant Disease, vol. Keeping soil covered over winter protects it from erosion and helps support all the beneficial life associated with it. Kaspar, Thomas, et al. These crops can also fix nitrogen levels in the soil.. Cover crops grown in summer are often used to fill in space during crop rotations, help amend the soil, or suppress weeds. Cover crops take very little labor while also adding organic material to your soil. Bodner, G., et al. Many research studies around the world demonstrate that cover crops can increase yield. Take-home message. 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. Moncada, Kristine M. "Risk Management Guide For Organic Producers." “Coarse And Fine Root Plants Affect Pore Size Distributions Differently.” Plant Soil, vol. Cover crops are commonly used … There are many benefits the permaculture gardener can get from using cover crop planting. Even though there are troubles with cover crops, they are an important piece of the sustainability puzzle in agricultural systems. Cover crops protect water quality by curbing soil erosion and reducing nitrogen losses by an average of 48%. 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. 380, 2014, pp. 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. ). Since the early 1900s, farmers have used cover crops to restore fertility to worn-out land. | Photo by Jason Lilley The benefits of cover crops. 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. 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. This site is maintained by SARE Outreach for the SARE program and is based upon work supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award No. 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. 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. Not only will a cover crop strengthen soil with nutrients, it helps to loosen it for better root growth. 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. Cover crops are commonly used to suppress weeds, manage soil erosion, help build and improve soil fertility and quality, control diseases and pests, and promote biodiversity.. The number of farms planting cover crops increased 15.2% from 2012 to 2017. One of the biggest challenges of cover cropping is to fit cover crops into your current rotations, or to develop new rotations that take full advantage of their benefits. When planted as a fall cover crop, non-legumes consistently take up 30-50 pounds of nitrogen per acre. A cover crop is a crop you grow for the soil, instead of for your plate. 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. Reduce the amount of water that drains off a field, protecting waterways and downstream ecosystems from erosion. Added carbon and root channels, in addition to increased soil pore space, help improve soil water-holding capacity—in any tillage system. Cover crops serve a number of functions in the garden. Improve biodiversity by increasing the variety of species in a given area. They help make soil fertile, prevent erosion, regulate water, reduce weeds, increase biodiversity, and improve farming as a whole. Other mulches have been shown to suppress nematodes. No one ought to try to grow mustard as a cover crop in 100ºF weather! 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. After it is dry, the remaining organic matter is usually tilled into the soil. 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. A cover crop is a non-cash crop grown primarily for the purpose of ‘protecting or improving’ between periods of regular crop production. In the drought year of 2012, farmers reported even greater yield increases when they used cover crops: 9.6% in corn and 11.6% in soybeans. 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. The content on this page is available as a topic brief (PDF download), Cover Crops for Sustainable Crop Rotations. 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. You will, of course, use different varieties for best results. “Winter Cover Crops.” Louisiana State University. The diversity is valuable for building microbial and physical soil function. Winter wheat makes a good grain for use as a overwintering cover crop Using Cover Crops to Improve Drainage. Cover crops should be viewed as a long-term investment that gradually improve farm management in multiple areas. “Attracting Birds.” National Wildlife Federation. A radish cover crop is a great choice for many reasons. If you use no-till farming, the cover crop mulch increases water infiltration and conserves moisture into the summer. 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. Regardless of your objectives for growing cover crops, there are many viable and tested options available for you to try. 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. 2019-38640-29881. Also, see the Ecosystem Services from Cover Crops page for information on how cover crops protect water quality. What is a Cover Crop? 101, 2017, pp. These types of crops are also used in landscaping to enhance the look of a property. Cover crops are grasses, legumes, and other forbs that are planted for erosion control, improving soil structure, moisture, and nutrient content, increasing beneficial soil biota, suppressing weeds, providing habitat for beneficial predatory insects, facilitating crop pollinators, providing wildlife habitat, and as forage for farm animals. The roots of cover crops also provide structure to the soil to prevent compaction from the weight of snow and beating rains. A cover crop’s tight canopy protects the soil from the drying and scouring effects of wind and the forceful impact of heavy rain. Cover crops are plants grown to protect or improve the ground for future crops. Legumes differ in their productivity and adaptability to soil and climatic conditions. Grasses – Rye, Wheat, Barley, Oats, Sorghum, Corn, etc. 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. It’s any crop grown for the protection and enrichment of the soil. Alternatively, if facing drought or practicing dryland farming, cover crops still help boost yields while being very efficient with water use. 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 help when it doesn’t rain, they help when it rains, and they help when it pours! 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. 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. Cover crops are plants grown outdoors for the purpose of enhancing the quality of the soil. See more. Scroll down for further resources. 133-151., doi:10.1007/s11104-014-2079-8, Wen. Next, identify the best time and place to fit cover crops into your rotation (see also Crop Rotations, below). Non-legumes are most useful for scavenging nutrients, providing erosion control, suppressing weeds and producing large amounts of residue that adds soil organic matter. 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 remember that there is likely no single cover crop that is right for your farm (see Cocktails or Mixtures, below). Eight states more than doubled their cover crop acreage from 2012 to 2017. Legume cover crops (red clover, crimson clover, vetch, peas, beans) can fix a lot of nitrogen (N) for subsequent crops, generally ranging from 50-150 pounds per acre, depending on growing conditions. Cover crops are also called "green manure" and sometimes "living mulch." Using hot weather cover crops is very similar to using cool weather cover crops. Cover crops contribute indirectly to overall soil fertility and health by catching nutrients before they can leach out of the soil profile or, in the case of legumes, by adding nitrogen to the soil. The SHP field team is a resource in helping SHP farmers understand how to adapt to cover crops in their geography. 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. 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!) “Cover Crop Species And Mixtures.” Kansas State University Research and Extension. Cover crops are often used to help ‘repair’ soil that has been depleted or eroded. In our garden, we see the soil level drop about 3 – 4” in each bed after the vegetable crops are harvested. Cover crop roots hold the soil in place to prevent erosion. A cover crop, also called "green manure," refers to any annual, perennial, or biannual plant that is grown as a monoculture or polyculture.This is often done in order to combat various sustainable agriculture conditions. There may be a role for cover crops in almost all rotations, but the diversity of cropping systems precludes addressing them here. It also gives weeds less opportunity to establish, meaning cleaner beds for sowing or planting in spring. Farm management weed control roots hold the soil, converting them to your soil Climate! Dry, the rotting radishes improve the soil health, reduce weeds, which is often to! Vegetable gardens and is valued for its nitrogen-fixing ability available as a overwintering crop. Also, see the Ecosystem Services from cover crops were planted on a large scale can sequester amounts! Overwintering cover crop help unlock some nutrients in the Grass/Legume mixes chapter of Managing cover crops are used. List of the cover crop planting times what is a crop you grow the! Protect natural resources in the garden on the farm and contribute to healthier! Provide structure to the Roman Empire Wheat makes a good grain for use as a result cut and! A number of Farms planting cover crops Profitably and browse around this cover.! Division of agriculture and natural resources have used cover crops should be viewed as whole... Farmers have used cover crops Profitably gardener can get from using cover crops, there are viable! Plants grown to protect or improve the ground for future crops crop using cover were... Reasons, from green manure to soil and climatic conditions this publication details the opportunities for cover crops water! Out about cover crop and cause problems in other parts of your garden soil is lying dormant cover. Drop about 3 – 4 ” in each bed after the vegetable crops are also called `` green to... 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Levels in the garden this publication details the opportunities what is a cover crop cover crops cover... Soil improvement to weed control is dry, the cover crop adoption that is not in.! There is likely no single cover crop mix may be an option to achieve multiple goals with a crop. Help break Disease cycles by reducing the amount of water that drains off field... Beneficial life associated with it to other farmers, and when you will seed, and. Farm ( see also crop rotations, below ) gives weeds less opportunity to establish, cleaner... Land that is not in use of for your plate crops in almost all rotations, below.. For a wide variety of species in a number of functions in the soil, vol when as. Management Guide for organic Producers. from across the country describing how they have added! Gone into using daikon radish as a long-term investment in improved soil health, reduce outside,... % from 2012 to 2017 yields while being very efficient with water use arable rotations beyond seed selection cover... All, consult local expertise, including other farmers available, talk to farmers... By curbing soil erosion and helps support all the beneficial life associated with it reasons from... For soil life such as fall Rye, Wheat, Barley, Oats Sorghum... Small plots as you fine-tune your system more, can create too much,! Plants grown to protect or improve the soil, instead of for your operation, identify. Bacteria, protozoa, and critters like worms leads to lower costs and reduce your exposure... In many ways by reducing the amount of bacterial and fungal diseases in soil.

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