Cover Crops

The primary objective of cover crops is to protect and enhance soil quality. Cover crops should be planted prior to cash crops, but they can also be inter-planted as long as the cover crop planting is delayed. The length of time a cover crop is grown depends on type of cover crop, geographic location, and time of planting. Cover crops need to be cut at a specific time, which can be done by either mowing or using a roll-crimper. They can then be left on the surface of the soil for water conservation or turned with the soil (known as green manure) prior to planting the cash crops. It typically takes two to three weeks after cover crops have been turned before cash crops can be planted.

Cover Crop Varieties

There are different types of cover crops that can be used depending on soil requirements. Tillage can compromise soil health, so using cover crops can help offset that effect. In order to obtain the maximum potential of cover crops, it is important to incorporate planning for cover crops in accordance with cash crop rotations, which is one of the most difficult tasks.

The type of cover crop that’s used depends on the cash crops to be planted, soil condition, geographic location, and soil condition. If the soil has a tendency to leach nitrogen, planting a nitrogen-scavenging crop such as brassicas, oat, rye, or winter wheat will improve soil quality. If the soil lacks nitrogen, nitrogen-producing crops such as red clover, peas, or vetch should be used. When there is a weed problem, using brassicas, winter rye, or buckwheat can be beneficial. Oat, barley, rye, wheat, and other fibrous-rooted crops can be used to build soil structure. Many cover crops have more than one key function.

Cover Crop Benefits

The use of cover crops can increase yields of cash crops the year immediately after planting them, which can lead to increased profits. Cover crops can also suppress weeds, support pest and disease control, enhance nitrogen levels, reduce fertilizer costs and the need for herbicides and pesticides, mitigate soil erosion, improve availability of water, and improve soil quality.

Cover crops are important for the environment and beneficial to those who use them. It is important to understand which cover crops to use, when to use them, and how long to grow them for the maximum benefit.