Cover Crops - An Essential Tool for Sustainable Cropping Sys

The use of cover crops is steadily increasing throughout the United States. Many no-till farmers consider cover crops to be the next step in conservation agriculture.

Leaving the soil undisturbed and keeping something growing as many days as possible restores the natural cycles of the soils. Residues and roots create more organic matter in the soils. Increased organic matter serves as a food source to various soil organisms and increases the biological activity. Higher biological activity increases nutrient cycling and availability and also reduces nutrient loss due to run off. With all this activity, soil structure and tilth are improved, increasing infiltration rates and reducing compaction.

Implementation of cover crops can have the following beneficial effects:

  • Increase soil organic matter
  • Increase infiltration of water into the soil
  • Decrease runoff to nearby waterways
  • Decrease soil erosion and transport to nearby waterways
  • Conserve soil moisture
  • Reduce soil compaction
  • Increase nutrient availability to the crop
  • Reduce nitrate leaching to groundwater
  • Supply nitrogen to following crop
  • Suppress weeds, potential reducing the need for herbicides
  • Suppress soil-born diseases and nematodes, potentially reducing the need for insecticides
  • Attract beneficial insects such as pollinators
  • Increase yields of the following crop
  • Improve soil quality

Cropping Decisions Survey Summary with Howard G Buffet Foundation and CTIC.