Why do farmers use cover crops?

Planting cover crops in your garden offers multiple benefits, such as controlling erosion, eliminating weeds, reducing soil compaction, increasing soil moisture and nutrient content, improving yield potential, attracting pollinators, and providing habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife, as well as food. Cover crops can be broadly defined as any non-commercial crop that is grown in addition to the primary commercial crop. There is increasing evidence that cover crops help stabilize yields and improve moisture availability in the face of an increasingly erratic climate. Research shows that cover crops deter weeds, control pests, increase biodiversity in fields and strengthen the soil's capacity to absorb water, allowing farmers to reduce the amounts of pesticides and fertilizers they must buy and apply to their crops.

With the development of selective herbicides before and after the emergency, many farmers stopped growing cover crops in the 1950s. Cover crop mixes offer the best of both worlds, combining the benefits of grasses and legumes or using the different growth characteristics of several species to meet their needs. In these situations, it's important to consider whether the expected benefits of cover crops justify the investment. Cover Crops for Walnut Orchards answers a series of questions that growers may have about choosing and managing a cover crop system.

Cover crops should be considered a long-term investment that gradually improves agricultural management in multiple areas. When planted as a fall cover crop, non-legume plants consistently absorb 30 to 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre. The content of this page is available as a summary of the topic (download in PDF), Cover Crops for Sustainable Crop Rotations. Cover crops are also both an adaptation to climate change and a way to slow it down or mitigate its effects.

One of the biggest challenges of cover crops is to include cover crops in current rotations or to develop new rotations that take full advantage of their benefits. Determining when cover crops pay for themselves isn't as simple as comparing the extra costs of the first year with the yield of the next crop. Barley, oats, rye, triticale, wheat, buckwheat, mustards, brassicas and forage radishes also belong to a unique group of cover crops known as nutrient captors. The Rodale Institute is growing the organic movement through research, farmer training and consumer education.

One of the most critical factors in implementing a successful cover crop management program is determining the objectives and function of the chosen cover crop. Regardless of your goals for cover cultivation, there are plenty of viable and proven options available for you to try.

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