Cover crops seem to be all the rage these days. However, not everyone is sold on the idea of cover crops, including many farmers.
Cover crops are nothing new, however. The practice of growing crops for the protection and enrichment of soil has been going on for centuries.
Often promoted as a cure for any and all troubles farmers face, some farmers are beginning to question the validity of such claims. This includes farmers who have given cover crops a real try and ended up disappointed.
These farmers say that cover crops can be hit and miss because of the number of variables involved. These variables include things like geography, weather and specific management practices. And with today’s farmers’ budgets severely stretched, it can be difficult for many to take a gamble on something that may not provide a guaranteed return on investment.
Of course, there are always two sides to every story, with some farmers insisting that, when managed correctly, cover crops work extremely well. So how can producers be sure cover crops make sense for their operation? The first thing a producer should do is consider the advantages and disadvantages of cover crops and decide if they are willing to take the risk. What followers are what most agricultural researchers will tell you are the most common advantages and disadvantages of cover crops:
- Improve field trafficability
- Improve soil physical properties
- Increase residue cover
- Increase soil organic carbon
- Increase water filtration into soil
- Recycle nutrients
- Reduce soil erosion
- Reduce some diseases
- Provide weed control
- Difficult to incorporate with tillage
- Increase costs (including planting and killing)
- Increase disease risk
- Increase pest populations
- Reduce soil moisture
Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list and not all cover crops will experience results—good or bad. Unfortunately, as every farmer knows, there are no absolutes in farming. Therefore, deciding whether or not to plant cover crops will come down to deciding if the advantages of planting cover crops outweighs the possible risks.
If you do decide to plant cover crops, there are a number of resources available to help you be as successful as possible. It also is a good idea to speak with farmers who have successful planted cover crops. Finally, if you are still nervous about planting cover crops but would like to give it a try, you may consider using cover crops on small plots of land before expanding your use of these crops.