Happy May Day Everyone!
It seems that the saying “Everything old is new again” is true in agriculture too. Our grandfathers’ knew the benefits of cover crops, but somehow the practice was nearly forgotten in modern farming. The technological advances in farming strategies, equipment and chemicals can increase production only so far if soils aren’t revived as well. Cover crops, especially as part of a system including additional conservation methods, can help return to soils to properties they once had.
Your situation might benefit from erosion control, knocking back weeds or providing forage. Using the right plants or preferably a combination of plants with different properties is a powerful way to give soil a boost. Species with tap roots address surface compaction to improve water and nutrient movement to cash crops. Others with fibrous roots can build soil structure and improve tilth. Deep-rooted covers add permeability in heavy soils. Others may hold expensive chemical and fertilizer inputs so they don’t run into ground water.
As with any practice, there is the potential for problems. Discuss plans with someone experienced in using cover crops prior to your first attempt. Do research to find the proper species, the correct scheduling of planting and termination and control methods for the crops you’d like to try. Then the improvements you want can be obtained and possible bad effects on the next cash crop can be avoided.
Root depths achieved even with little showing at the surface.
Early spring residue from a mix of cover crops.
Example of the root structure of Austrian Winter Peas.