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Soil Health Resource Guide

#whycovercrop

By January 15, 2018January 30th, 2018No Comments

Cover crops are plants or a diverse mixture of plants that are grown in the otherwise fallow periods between harvested crops within a rotation. Cover crops are an important part of any regenerative agricultural system because they are unique in their ability to deliver so many ecosystem services.

Many people ask, “Why should I spend money on a crop I don’t intend to harvest?” That is a legitimate and timely question! Many producers are discovering that cover crops are a wise investment and can provide many benefits and soil services.

This Reference Guide outlines many benefits of cover crops, all of which fall into one of these categories:

  1. Produce above ground biomass that is beneficial for:
    • Livestock grazing
    • Wildlife attraction
    • Pollinator and beneficial insects
  2. Provide living roots in the soil that are beneficial for:
    • Mycorrhizal fungi and other soil biology
    • Nitrogen fixation
    • Nutrient (particularly phosphorus) availability
    • Nutrient scavenging and cycling
    • Disease and pathogen suppression
    • Increased water infiltration
    • Increased soil structure and aggregation
    • Reduced soil compaction
  3. Create soil armor through a residue mulch layer that is beneficial for:
    • Reduced or eliminated soil erosion
    • Decreased soil temperature
    • Decreased evaporative water loss
    • Increased water infiltration
    • Improved drought tolerance
    • Increased soil organic matter
  4. Provide decayed root channels that promote:
    • Air and water movement into soils
    • Increased soil organic matter
    • Deeper rooting of subsequent crops through “pilot” holes

All of these benefits help create a more profitable and sustainable system of farming and ranching, but an often under-appreciated benefit is that cover cropping makes farming fun again! Many customers report that their favorite part of farming is inspecting their cover crop stands and seeing the soil improve over time. Regenerative farming and cover cropping has given them a new positive outlook for the future of their farm and a newfound hope of passing the land on to future generations in better condition than when they acquired it.

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