Cover crops provide many soil health and environmental benefits. If you're planning to introduce cover crops to your operation, it is important to set goals for your field, then choose cover crops and seeding methods to best achieve those goals. Here are some of the ways cover crops can benefit your soil, and, ultimately, your bottom line.
Reduce Soil Compaction
Compaction layers in soil can limit water infiltration, aeration, and the growth of cash crop roots. Certain cover crops can break up compaction layers in the soil, reducing a need for overly-aggressive mechanical tillage. For no-till farmers, cover crops provide a non-mechanical method for repairing and maintaining an ideal soil structure.
Manage Nitrogen & Nutrients
Nitrogen is lost frequently, in large quantities, when there are no growing plants to conserve it. Keep living roots in your soil to scavenge nutrients and put Nitrogen back in the soil, making it available to cash crops. Legume cover crops are good for releasing Nitrogen back into the soil.
Reduce Soil Erosion
Some cash crops, such as soybeans, tend to increase soil’s susceptibility to erosion because they loosen the soil while leaving less residue behind. Cover crop roots hold the soil in place, protecting soil from wind erosion. Cover crops can also protect soil from the impact of heavy rainfall and runoff. Reduced erosion protects and improves water quality by keeping ag chemicals in the ground and out of drainage water.
Greater Water Infiltration & Improved Water-Holding Capacity
Cover crop residue contributes to a reduction in evaporation, preserving moisture during drought periods. Residue also increases water infiltration, as increased living matter in the soil increases soil’s capacity to absorb water down to the root zone.
Cover crops can help smother weeds. Competing weeds will lose space, nutrients, and water during weed germination. Cover crop residue or leaf canopy can also reduce available light, altering the weed’s growing environment.
SARE/CTIC Cover Crop Study results over the last three years indicate corn and soybean yield benefits from the use of cover crops. During drought years, it appears that cover crops may have provided an added yield benefit when compared to uncovered fields.
Benefits will vary depending on field conditions and the cover crops you choose. Connect with your local agronomist for detailed information on how to accomplish your cover crop goals!