Learn more in the SARE bulletin Cover Crop Economics: Opportunities to Improve Your Bottom Line in Row Crops. While your garden soil is lying dormant, cover crops can prevent your precious dirt from becoming unproductive. A cover crop is a crop you grow for the soil, instead of for your plate. Bodner, G., et al. The cover crop mulch can increase water infiltration and also improve moisture availability by preventing evaporation. 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. They are plants that are grown to suppress weeds, help build and improve soil, … Find information to help you answer these questions in Selection and Management, but above all, consult local expertise, including other farmers. 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. Cover Crop Planting Times Cover crops are plants grown to protect or improve the ground for future crops. 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. Plant cover crops in organic farming to provide nitrogen, manage weeds and improve soil health. “Winter Cover Crops.” Louisiana State University. Farmers from across the country describing how they have successfully added cover crops to their cash crop rotations. An analysis in the SARE bulletin Cover Crop Economics reveals that in some situations cover crops can pay off in year one, such as when they are used for grazing or to manage herbicide-resistant weeds. … Keeping soil covered over winter protects it from erosion and helps support all the beneficial life associated with it. Cover crops enhance biodiversity on the farm and contribute to a healthier ecosystem in many ways. 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. 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. After it is dry, the remaining organic matter is usually tilled into the soil. The diversity is valuable for building microbial and physical soil function. It’s any crop grown for the protection and enrichment of the soil. 101, 2017, pp. Eight states more than doubled their cover crop acreage from 2012 to 2017. Lauren Arcuri is a freelance writer and an experienced small farmer based in rural Vermont. This is a visible reminder that growing a food crop consumes considerable organic matter. 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. For more information on using cover crops to address erratic weather events, visit the Water Management page of this topic room. Find out about cover crop planting times in this article. Their roots can even help unlock some nutrients in the soil, converting them to more available forms. Small farmers choose to grow specific cover crops based on their needs and goals and the overall requirements of the land they are working. Cover crops were planted on 15.4 million acres in 2017, a 50% increase over five years. 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. Flowering cover crops can provide food and habitat for important pollinators and beneficial insects. If you use no-till farming, the cover crop mulch increases water infiltration and conserves moisture into the summer. In Michigan, for example, some potato growers report that two years of radish improves potato production and lowers pest control costs. Failure to do so can lead to failure of the cover crop and cause problems in other parts of your system. ). Cover crops take very little labor while also adding organic material to your soil. The content on this page is available as a topic brief (PDF download), Cover Crops for Sustainable Crop Rotations. 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 used for a wide variety of reasons, from green manure to soil improvement to weed control. Finally, think through exactly how and when you will seed, terminate and plant into your cover crop. 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! A popular legume cover crop, hairy vetch is commonly used in vegetable gardens and is valued for its nitrogen-fixing ability. Cover crops are plants grown outdoors for the purpose of enhancing the quality of the soil. Cover crops have a surprisingly wide array of benefits and no serious drawbacks. This publication details the opportunities for cover crops in conventional arable rotations. Kaspar, Thomas, et al. A cover crop is just what it sounds like: a crop that covers the soil of your garden during the off-season. 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. For resources on this subject, read the results of SARE-funded resesarch on the No-Till page of this topic room. “Cover Crop Species And Mixtures.” Kansas State University Research and Extension. 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. 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. Cover crop residue helps control weeds, which is especially important in organic no-till agriculture. By stimulating biological activity in the soil, cover crops planted on a large scale can sequester huge amounts of atmospheric carbon. See more. 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? Scroll down for further resources. Pest-fighting cover crop systems help minimize pesticide use, and as a result cut costs and reduce your chemical exposure. “Building Soils for Better Crops, Third Edition.” Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. The practice of growing specific crops just for fertilizing and building the soil dates back to the Roman Empire. 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. 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. Cover crops have also been shown to increase crop yields, break through a plow pan, add organic matter to the soil, improve crop diversity on farms and attract pollinators. 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. Alternatively, some progressive farmers in drought-prone areas favor a no-till method, in which the residue from the cover crop is left on the soil as a mulch layer. There are many benefits the permaculture gardener can get from using cover crop planting. Cover crops are often used to help ‘repair’ soil that has been depleted or eroded. Cover crops protect water quality by curbing soil erosion and reducing nitrogen losses by an average of 48%. Cover crops grown in summer are often used to fill in space during crop rotations, help amend the soil, or suppress weeds. No-till farming or other conservation agriculture systems are good opportunities to plant cover crops. The SHP field team is a resource in helping SHP farmers understand how to adapt to cover crops in their geography. Using hot weather cover crops is very similar to using cool weather cover crops. Cover crops are a critical tool for farmers. 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. What is a Cover Crop? Here is a list of the utilities of cover crops. 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. 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. 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. “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. Even though there are troubles with cover crops, they are an important piece of the sustainability puzzle in agricultural systems. A radish cover crop is a great choice for many reasons. However, beyond seed selection, cover crops are cover crops. They help make soil fertile, prevent erosion, regulate water, reduce weeds, increase biodiversity, and improve farming as a whole. 133-151., doi:10.1007/s11104-014-2079-8, Wen. Plant a non-legume whenever a field has excess nutrients, particularly nitrogen. Cover crops maintain and improve soil fertility in a number of ways. Cover crops have a host of benefits, but there isn't a single species that does it all. 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? 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. 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). You will, of course, use different varieties for best results. Cover crops should be viewed as a long-term investment in improved soil health and farm management. Cover crops that attract and retain beneficial insects—when allowed to flower—include buckwheat, clovers (crimson, red, white, sweet) and brassicas. 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. Here we summarize some of it and provide an introduction to many of the benefits of growing cover crops. They add organic matter, improve the soil’s texture and structure, improve the fertility, help prevent erosion and attract pollinating insects. There may be a role for cover crops in almost all rotations, but the diversity of cropping systems precludes addressing them here. 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. “Coarse And Fine Root Plants Affect Pore Size Distributions Differently.” Plant Soil, vol. 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, such as fall rye, crimson clover, buckwheat and others are easy to grow. 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? Over time, this investment leads to lower costs and, sometimes, increased revenue. 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. We started with a diverse mixture of three types of millet, grazing corn, soybean, cowpea, buckwheat and sunn hemp. 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. 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. Additionally, hairy vetch is impressively versatile and resilient; it’s a good choice in cold climates and drought conditions, and it … 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!) Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. Take-home message. 1918-1928., doi:10.1094/PDIS-07-16-1067-RE. 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. Whether you add cover crops to your existing rotations or totally revamp your farming system, you should devote as much planning and attention to your cover crops as you do to your cash crops. 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. Use the Order button on this page to order free hard copies. 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. 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.. Non-legumes are most useful for scavenging nutrients, providing erosion control, suppressing weeds and producing large amounts of residue that adds soil organic matter. 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. Legumes differ in their productivity and adaptability to soil and climatic conditions. Is it too wet in the spring? These crops can also fix nitrogen levels in the soil.. 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. 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. A cover crop is any plant grown for the primary purpose of improving the soil. 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. 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. Cover crops play an essential role in improving soil health and are associated with numerous on-farm benefits, such as controlling erosion, improving water infiltration and managing nutrients. A cover crop can improve the health of your soil, resulting in a significantly larger, healthier cash crop for the next growing season. 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. 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. SHP supports healthy cover crop adoption that is sustainable and works for the farmer. Many research studies around the world demonstrate that cover crops can increase yield. Combining several cover crop species in a mix may be an option to achieve multiple goals with a cover crop. Winter cover crops help hold soil in place over the winter and provide ground cover. 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. 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. Help break disease cycles by reducing the amount of bacterial and fungal diseases in the soil. To learn about other methods of attracting beneficial insects, read Agroecological Strategies to Enhance On-Farm Insect Pollinators from Managing Insects on Your Farm. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. Since the early 1900s, farmers have used cover crops to restore fertility to worn-out land. Moncada, Kristine M. "Risk Management Guide For Organic Producers." Cover crops should be viewed as a long-term investment that gradually improve farm management in multiple areas. The huge roots can penetrate compacted subsoil, and when the plants die from cold temperatures, the rotting radishes improve the soil. Cover crop effects on agricultural pests are multi-faceted. A cover crop is a non-cash crop grown primarily for the purpose of ‘protecting or improving’ between periods of regular crop production. Regardless of your objectives for growing cover crops, there are many viable and tested options available for you to try. Because each root of the cover crop creates pores in the soil, cover crops help allow water to filter deep into the ground. The number of farms planting cover crops increased 15.2% from 2012 to 2017. Find out more information about cocktails and cover crop mixes in the Grass/Legume Mixes chapter of Managing Cover Crops Profitably. Also, see the Ecosystem Services from Cover Crops page for information on how cover crops protect water quality. Although seeding and management of cover crop mixes or “cocktails” can become more complicated, planting them allows you to attain multiple objectives at once. 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. Evidence is mounting that cover crops help stabilize yields and improve moisture availability in the face of increasingly erratic weather. 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. 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. Be sure to see the book, Managing Cover Crops Profitably and browse around this Cover Crop Topic Room for more information. 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. They can also support birds and other wildlife. Benefits of Cover Crops 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 cover crop is anything that is planted in order to literally “cover” a piece of land that is not in use. There are 4 types of cover crops. Alternatively, if facing drought or practicing dryland farming, cover crops still help boost yields while being very efficient with water use. When crops are grown in this manner, soil fertility, water, weeds, pests, and diseases are effectively managed. Cover crop roots hold the soil in place to prevent erosion. Cover crops are also called "green manure" and sometimes "living mulch." 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. University of Minnesota. Cover crops: Cover crops are an important part of sustainable agriculture. Improve biodiversity by increasing the variety of species in a given area. Cover crop mulches suppress weeds and reduce splashing of soil-borne pathogens onto leaves, while some, such as sudangrass, brassicas and mustards, reduce populations of verticillium wilt and other soil pathogens. Let’s begin our discussion with the cover crop. Grasses – Rye, Wheat, Barley, Oats, Sorghum, Corn, etc. 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. 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. 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. Cover crops are one of the most effective ways to improve soil health, reduce outside inputs, and protect natural resources. Or, incorporate the cover crop into the soil (sometimes called a green manure) before planting your main crop. 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. However, cocktails often cost more, can create too much residue, may be difficult to seed and generally require more complex management. Winter wheat makes a good grain for use as a overwintering cover crop Using Cover Crops to Improve Drainage. When planted as a fall cover crop, non-legumes consistently take up 30-50 pounds of nitrogen per acre. | Photo by Jason Lilley The benefits of cover crops. In the US, quite a bit of research has gone into using daikon radish as a fall cover crop. Cover crops are commonly used … L., et al.  “Suppression Of Soilborne Diseases Of Soybean With Cover Crops.” Plant Disease, vol. 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 crop of a specific plant that is grown primarily for the benefit of the soil rather than the crop yield. Learn more. Cover crops are tilled under in late winter or early spring. What is a Cover Crop? Cover crops help when it doesn’t rain, they help when it rains, and they help when it pours! Reduce the amount of water that drains off a field, protecting waterways and downstream ecosystems from erosion. Provide nutrients to the soil, much like manure does. This section outlines the different types of cover crops as well as management tips for planting and terminating. Consider creating a new rotation or modifying an existing one to accommodate your long-term objectives for planting cover crops. No one ought to try to grow mustard as a cover crop in 100ºF weather! 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. It also gives weeds less opportunity to establish, meaning cleaner beds for sowing or planting in spring. “Cover Crops.” University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. With careful attention to cultivar choice, placement and timing, cover crops can reduce infestations by insects, diseases, nematodes and weeds. “Summer Cover Crops.” North Carolina State University. 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. 380, 2014, pp. Consult the many resources available, talk to other farmers, and start with small plots as you fine-tune your system. A bumblebee on hairy vetch, which is often used as a cover crop. “Cover Crops, Late Season.” University of Massachusetts Amherst. Lying dormant, cover crops on hairy vetch, which is especially important in organic no-till.! 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