Four Benefits to Cover Crops

Aug 12, 2019


If you’re not using cover crops with your no-till system, we’ve got two words for you:  why not?
There are many benefits to using cover crops, says Brett Jones, an agronomy specialist from Tennessee Farmers Cooperative. Here are his top four.
 
  1. Builds organic matter/reduce soil erosion
Cover crops increase soil organic matter by protecting the soil surface from erosion, adding biomass (especially below the soil surface), and creating a habitat for microorganisms. According to the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) organization, legume crops were found to increase levels of soil organic matter by 8 percent to 114 percent. Non-legume cover crops, including grasses and brassicas, were found to increase soil organic matter levels by 4 percent to 62 percent.
 
  1. Improves water utilization and water-holding capacity
Cover crops help crops hold on longer during dry weather conditions. A farmer recently shared that when he planted a field with cover crops, there was one strip he couldn’t access because of road construction. However, he could access the entire field when it was time to plant his corn crop, and he could see a drastic difference between the strip and the rest of the field.  The strip of soil without cover crops was hard and dry and really showed signs of stresses. The soil with cover crops held moisture better and showed little signs of stress.
 
  1. Controls weeds
Herbicide-resistant weeds have made weed control an even bigger challenge. Without enough new chemistry to combat these weeds, researchers and producers are using multiple methods, and one of them is cover crops. If you keep a cover crop on a field from winter through early spring, the competition for nutrients from cover crops won’t allow weeds to get started. Additionally, when you either roll down the cover crop or kill them, you’re putting a blanket on top of the ground that keeps weeds from coming up for a period of time. Cover crops are proving to be an important piece of the weed control puzzle when used in conjunction with other practices.
 
  1. Allows for better movement of nutrients/reduces soil compaction
For best results, include multiple species in your cover crop seed mix. Some species, like radishes, have a tap root that goes down deeper in the ground and will break up the hard soil. That’s when earthworms — a great sign of a healthy soil system — move into the area because the ground isn’t as impacted. On the other hand, cereal grains, like oats and rye, have more of a fibrous root system that encourages lateral movement of nutrients, allowing plants to better utilize them.
 
For more information about implementing cover crops on your farmland, contact your local Co-op agronomy specialist.
 
 

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