They provide habitat for soil life such as fungi, bacteria, protozoa, and critters like worms. Reduce the amount of water that drains off a field, protecting waterways and downstream ecosystems from erosion. 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. Small farmers choose to grow specific cover crops based on their needs and goals and the overall requirements of the land they are working. 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. 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. The cover crop mulch can increase water infiltration and also improve moisture availability by preventing evaporation. “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. Boquet, Donald. Because each root of the cover crop creates pores in the soil, cover crops help allow water to filter deep into the ground. 2010. Eight states more than doubled their cover crop acreage from 2012 to 2017. 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 crops maintain and improve soil fertility in a number of ways. 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!) They are plants that are grown to suppress weeds, help build and improve soil, … 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. Bodner, G., et al. Finally, think through exactly how and when you will seed, terminate and plant into your cover crop. Also remember that there is likely no single cover crop that is right for your farm (see Cocktails or Mixtures, below). Although seeding and management of cover crop mixes or “cocktails” can become more complicated, planting them allows you to attain multiple objectives at once. Provide nutrients to the soil, much like manure does. They can also support birds and other wildlife. Find information to help you answer these questions in Selection and Management, but above all, consult local expertise, including other farmers. See more. 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. 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. After it is dry, the remaining organic matter is usually tilled into the soil. The SARE bulletin Cultivating Climate Resilience on Farms and Ranches has more information on the role of soil health in climate risk management. Use the Order button on this page to order free hard copies. “10 Ways Cover Crops Enhance Soil Health.” Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. “Attracting Birds.” National Wildlife Federation. Kaspar, Thomas, et al. Cover crop residue helps control weeds, which is especially important in organic no-till agriculture. 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. Next, identify the best time and place to fit cover crops into your rotation (see also Crop Rotations, below). These crops can also fix nitrogen levels in the soil.. Cover crops have a host of benefits, but there isn't a single species that does it all. In the US, quite a bit of research has gone into using daikon radish as a fall cover crop. Their roots can even help unlock some nutrients in the soil, converting them to more available forms. For in-depth resources, visit the website listed in each section. Grasses – Rye, Wheat, Barley, Oats, Sorghum, Corn, etc. 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.