what is cover cropping in agriculture



What is a Cover Crop?

  • Grasses. Grasses are broad leaves and have a fibrous root system. …
  • Legumes. Legumes fix atmospheric nitrogen, prevent soil erosion and add organic matters to the soil. …
  • Brassicas. Brassicas are good biomass production and known for rapid foliage growth. …
  • Non-legume Broadleaves. …
  • Advantages of Cover Crops. …
  • Disadvantage of Cover Crops. …

A cover crop is a plant that is used primarily to slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, smother weeds, help control pests and diseases, increase biodiversity and bring a host of other benefits to your farm.


What is the main purpose of a cover crop?

Cover crops can be broadly defined as any non-cash crop grown in addition to the primary cash crop. These crops have the potential to increase soil organic matter and fertility, reduce erosion, improve soil structure, promote water infiltration, and limit pest and disease outbreaks. There are numerous benefits to cover cropping, though, as with any management technique, there are …

What are some good cover crops?

Cover cropping is the process of using cover crops to benefit the soil prior to planting the main cash crop. The cover crop is planted in the off-season, and then is allowed to grow out. Once it is fully grown, the conventional farmer will typically mow …

What are some common cover crops?

A cover crop is a crop you grow for the soil, instead of for your plate. The practice of growing specific crops just for fertilizing and building the soil dates back to the Roman Empire. Cover crops add organic matter to the soil, and add nitrogen in a slow-release way that plants can handle, leading to less nitrogen volatilization (read: waste!). Cover crops can also act as …

Why to use cover crops?

 · Cover cropping is a technique of growing low-lying crops, such as sweet potato, melon, pumpkin, beans and pea. Many leafy vegetables also cover the ground when their seeds are scattered (broadcast) widely. Cover cropping helps prevent soil …


What is cover cropping?

A cover crop slows the velocity of runoff from rainfall and snowmelt, reducing soil loss due to sheet and rill erosion. Over time, a cover crop regimen will increase soil organic matter, leading to improvements in soil structure, stability, and increased moisture and nutrient holding capacity for plant growth.

What is an example of a cover crop?

cover crop, Fast-growing crop, such as rye, buckwheat, cowpea, or vetch, planted to prevent soil erosion, increase nutrients in the soil, and provide organic matter. Cover crops are grown either in the season during which cash crops are not grown or between the rows of some crops (e.g., fruit trees).

What are 3 cover crops?

It’s important to note that there are four classes of cover crops: grasses (such as ryegrass or barley), legumes (such as alfalfa or clover), brassicas (such as radishes or turnips) and non-legume broadleaves (such as spinach or flax).

What is crop covering and mulching?

0:5410:14Mulching VS Cover Crops In the Backyard Garden | Which is BetterYouTubeStart of suggested clipEnd of suggested clipSo one nice thing about having leaves or woodchips available to us is that it’s no cost to usMoreSo one nice thing about having leaves or woodchips available to us is that it’s no cost to us whatsoever. But comparing to using a cover crop or seeds for the cover crop.

Which is the best cover crop?

15 of the Best Cover Crops for Healthy SoilBrassicas. Arugula. Canola. Forage Radish. Mustard.Grasses and Grains. Annual Ryegrass. Barley. Buckwheat. Oats. Rye. Sorghum.Legumes. Alfalfa. Crimson Clover. Fava Beans. Field Peas. Vetch.

What is the most common cover crop?

Grass Cover CropsGrass Cover Crops, Such as Rye and Winter Wheat, Are the Most Common Cover Crops Used Before Planting Corn, Soybeans, and Cotton.

What are examples of cover crops in India?

Types of Cover CropsCommonly used Grass cover crops: Rye, Winter wheat, Oats, Ryegrass, Pearl millet, and Barley.Commonly used legume cover crops: red clover, Field peas, Hairy vetch, White clover, berseem clover, sweet clover, and alfalfa.More items…•

Which plants can be used as cover crops?

Typical cover crops for grazing are cereals and legumes like ryegrass, wheat, sorghum, millet, oats, triticale, barley, hairy vetch, red and white clover, pennisetum, lablab, Austrian winter pea, cowpea, alfalfa, fava among others.

What is the fastest growing cover crop?

Buckwheat. Buckwheat cover crop in flower. Buckwheat is the fastest and easiest cover crop, a 2′-3′ (60-90 cm) tall broadleaf annual that can be flowering within three weeks in very warm weather, 4 weeks in regular warm weather. Because it grows so fast, it quickly crowds out germinating weeds.

What are the advantages of cover cropping?

Quick-growing cover crops hold soil in place, reduce crusting and protect against erosion due to wind and rain. The aboveground portion of covers also helps protect soil from the impact of raindrops. Long-term use of cover crops increases water infiltration and reduces runoff that can carry away soil.

What is the best cover crop for nitrogen?

Nitrogen is necessary for all plant growth. Legumes have the ability to “fix” nitrogen from the air and store it in nodules in their roots. This nitrogen can be released or use by subsequent crops….Cover crops as nitrogen source.Cover CropLb./A *Cowpea100-150Crimson Clover70-130Field Pea90-150Hairy Vetch90-2007 more rows•Apr 1, 2015

What are the disadvantages of cover crops?

Table 1. Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Cover Crops.AdvantagesDisadvantagesReduce soil erosion, increase residue coverPlanted when time and labor is limitedIncreased water infiltrationAddition costs (planting and killing)5 more rows•May 15, 2017


How does cover cropping help the ecosystem?

Reduced runoff: Cover crop can reduce the amount of water that drains off a field, protecting waterways and downstream ecosystems from toxicity due to high nutrient concentrations.

Why are cover crops important?

Cover crops are commonly used to suppress weeds, manage soil erosion, help build and improve soil fertility and quality, control diseases and pests, and promote biodiversity. 

How do cover crops improve biodiversity?

Improved biodiversity: Decomposing cover crops help feed soil life and contribute to stable soil organic matter, which improves nutrient cycling, soil structure, and builds a diverse microbiome in the soil. Additionally, they improve biodiversity above ground by increasing the variety of species in a given area. For example, if there are more varied insects that feed on the varied vegetation, it can bring more birds, and so on.

What are some examples of cover crops?

There are several plants that can be used as cover crops, but most typical are grasses or legumes such as clover. The most common way to implement cover crops is by planting them in the off-season, prior to planting the primary cash crop. A cover crop prepares the land and soil for the incoming cash crop, so the farmer can have a better chance of a high-yielding, profitable season.

How does cover crop help dry out wet fields?

Improved planting conditions: Cover crops take up excess water, which can help dry out wet fields before planting.

How long does it take for cover crops to pay for themselves?

Cover crops should be viewed as a long-term investment in improved soil health and farm management. 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.

How does biodiversity affect soil?

Reduced/Eliminated disease cycles: Increased soil biodiversity reduces the amount of bacterial and fungal diseases in the soil.  If you have a soil that is infested, you can plant a cover crop in that area as a means to eradicate the disease.

Why do we cover crops?

The alternative is bare soil, and we know what that means: weeds and lost of nutrients and topsoil via erosion and volatilization . Cover crops can be seeded in just one bed, or they can be grown in entire sections of your garden. In short, they go in wherever you have time and space.

What to use for cover cropping?

When cover cropping for long periods of time, combine a small grain (think cereal ingredients like oats, barley, rye) and a legume (nitrogen-fixing plant like peas or vetch) for best results.

How to start cover cropping in summer?

Simply pick up a bag of buckwheat seed locally (link to resources), and plan to hand-sow it in your empty garden beds during the summer only. Watch it carefully, and when the white flowers start to pop open, it’s time to mow, weed eat, or clip it down. Fork the mowed residue into the soil and voila! You’re off to a great start on your cover cropping adventure.

What is the book “Building Soil for Better Crops” about?

A book often used is Building Soil for Better Crops by Fred Magdoff and Harold Van Es. The book covers several topics for building soil, including composting, crop rotations, and reduced tillage, but the chapter on cover cropping is accessible and succinct, and provides great suggestions of cover crop species.

How to get maximum benefit from cover crops?

The trick to getting the maximum benefit of cover crops is to allow the crop to get as mature as possible without making seeds. When the time comes that you can let it go no further, you kill it, allowing it to provide a layer of mulch on the soil, which feeds the soil food web below as it decomposes.

What is winter rye residue?

Winter rye residue is allelopathic (releasing toxic chemicals as it decomposes) to seeds of certain brassica species. If you are prepping soil for your spring cole crops and are planting from seed, consider a different cereal grain like wheat, instead. In many ways, cover cropping may seem like a practice for the super advanced gardener only …

Can cover crops be planted in one bed?

The alternative is bare soil, and we know what that means: weeds and lost of nutrients and topsoil via erosion and volatilization. Cover crops can be seeded in just one bed, or they can be grown in entire sections of your garden. In short, they go in wherever you have time and space.

What is cover crop?

Planting cover crops is a common and rewarding farming practice that was applied as far back as in the Roman Empire. Since then, the method has been widely used in agriculture, bringing a lot of good. Farmers reap a plethora of cover crop benefits that fit versatile objectives, both in the short-term and long-term perspective.

Why are cover crops used in agriculture?

As the name hints, these are plants to cover soils for certain reasons. Unlike primary species, they support secondary farmer’s needs rather than are grown for trade or human consumption. They improve soil health, boost yields, and feed the cattle. However, it does not mean that these plants are some exclusive species. In alternative situations, they serve as cash cultures, and you can find them on the plate as well (for example, buckwheat or corn). The difference is that in the case of fall cover crops, these species are used as grasses.

Why are my seeds establishing poorly in summer?

Nevertheless, seeds may establish poorly in summer due to droughts and heat, induce nitrogen deficiency (unless these are legumes), require extra residue management, or longer time to decompose than expected, thus postponing the time for planting fall primary species.

How do cover crops help?

Cover crops help prevent soil erosion, regulate moisture, attract pollinators, assist in weed and pest management, serve as mulch and the source of green manure and organic matter, and are used for grazing or forage. Depending on the types of cover crops, they add or uptake nitrogen.

Why do cover crops grow in summer?

This practice is applied to defeat weeds, erosion, and adjust the earth for the next crop. Summer or spring cover crops also serve as fodder for livestock . They prevent soil from quick drying with their roots compared to bare soils under the sunrays.

What is a grass?

Grasses are annual cereals like buckwheat, rye, wheat, corn, barley, oats, etc. They grow relatively fast and leave easily managed residues. Their fibrous threadlike root systems are strong and protect from erosion. In respect to nutrients, they accumulate soil nitrogen from the symbiosis with Azospirillum, yet do not possess the property to fix atmospheric nitrogen.

What season do farmers plant?

Farmers plant them in different seasons, either fall or late spring/summer, uniformly or between rows. Some are winter-killed, and some require removal and residue management. They also suggest one species at a time or their mixtures. The latter method is reported to bring more prolific results. Common cover crops are legumes, grasses (forage grains), brassicas, turnips, radishes, etc.

What is a cover crop?

A cover crop is a plant that is used primarily to slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, smother weeds, help control pests and diseases, increase biodiversity and bring a host of other benefits to your farm.

Why are cover crops important?

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. Cover crops help when it doesn’t rain, they help when it rains, and they help when it pours!

What is a cocktail cover crop?

Although seeding and management of cover crop mixes or “cocktails” can become more complicated, planting them allows you to attain multiple objectives at once. Cover crop mixtures offer the best of both worlds by combining the benefits of grasses and legumes, or using the different growth characteristics of several species to fit your needs. Compared to pure stands of legumes or non-legumes, cocktails usually produce more overall biomass and nitrogen, tolerate adverse conditions, increase winter survival, provide ground cover, improve weed control, attract a wider range of beneficial insects and pollinators, and provide more options for use as forage. However, cocktails often cost more, can create too much residue, may be difficult to seed and generally require more complex management. Find out more information about cocktails and cover crop mixes in the Grass/Legume Mixes chapter of Managing Cover Crops Profitably .

Why do we need cover crops in organic farming?

Cover Crops for Organic Farms. Plant cover crops in organic farming to provide nitrogen, manage weeds and improve soil health. In organic no-till farming, use a roller-crimper to kill the cover crop and leave the mulch on the soil surface to conserve water.

How long does it take for cover crops to pay?

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. For a detailed analysis of when cover crops begin to pay in different management scenarios, check out the SARE bulletin Cover Crop Economics: Opportunities to Improve Your Bottom Line in Row Crops.

How many acres of cover crops were planted in 2017?

Cover crops were planted on 15.4 million acres in 2017, a 50% increase over five years. Eight states more than doubled their cover crop acreage from 2012 to 2017. The number of farms planting cover crops increased 15.2% from 2012 to 2017. 1 From the Census of Agriculture. National Cover Crop Surveys.

What are the challenges of cover cropping?

Crop Rotations. One of the biggest challenges of cover cropping is to fit cover crops into your current rotations, or to develop new rotations that take full advantage of their benefits. There may be a role for cover crops in almost all rotations, but the diversity of cropping systems precludes addressing them here.

How do cover crops help the soil?

Roots of cover crops hold the soil in place protecting soil from runoff with wind or water. They cover the soil from the impact of heavy rainfall and runoff. Certain cover crops break the soil compaction by reducing a need of mechanical tillage. Zero tillage farms, cover crops provide non-mechanical soil repairing and maintain the ideal soil structure.

Why are grasses good for cover crops?

Grasses are broad leaves and have a fibrous root system. It is a good choice of cover crop, if there is a need to scavenge nutrients, especially grasses scavenging nitrogen left-overs from the previous crop. Grasses have a higher carbon percentage than legumes. Grasses produce large amounts of residue and add organic matter to the soil. Because the residue of grasses are not easily breakdown it helps to control weed growth and increase essential soil organisms by giving habitats for them.

How do non-legumes broadleaves help the soil?

Non legume broadleaves help to prevent soil erosion and reduce moisture loss from the soil by covering the soil from their leaves. They can not fix nitrogen in the air but they can absorb more from the soil.

Why are legumes important to the soil?

Legumes fix atmospheric nitrogen, prevent soil erosion and add organic matters to the soil. Normally legumes are higher in nitrogen and lower in carbon. Faster breakdown of residue in the soil than grasses. So it does not have the ability of weed control. Legumes are also used for composting and green manure production due to higher nitrogen amount and ability of faster breakdown.

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