Cover crops used correctly as part of your soil management strategy can deliver the following benefits:
- Capture and recycle nutrients left over from the previous crop, rather than being leached away.
- Fix nutrients from the atmosphere in association with soil bacteria.
- Improve soil structure through root penetration at different depths – subject to the species used. Channels created by the roots open up the soil allowing free movement of air and water through the soil profile, even breaking up compacted layers at depth.
- Protect the soil from erosion by water and wind, by holding soil in place with root and foliage growth.
- Help to suppress weed growth either by direct competition and/or by allelopathic effect.
- Create a large biomass of fresh organic matter which, when returned to the soil, will release nutrients over time to the following crops through the action of the soil biota. This helps to build organic matter levels and improve soil structure, particularly in low soil disturbance establishment systems.
- Increase the quantity of the biota (bacteria, earthworms, fungi, insects) in the soil over time by having a growing crop and increased organic matter available for more of the year to feed them consistently. The increase in soil biota will then speed up the breakdown of organic matter, bring the carbon:nitrogen ratio into balance and make nutrients readily available to the cash crop.
- Growing the appropriate species and varieties of cover and companion crops for your farm rotation can help reduce pest problems, particularly soil nematodes and cabbage stem flea beetle.
- Potential to save on cultivation costs by direct drilling following a cover crop that has improved or maintained soil structure.
- Encourage farmland wildlife and beneficial insects by creating cover and a food source over an extended period.
- Improve overall soil health, which is the foundation for helping to promote good crop health, enhancing crop yields and farm sustainability.
- In the longer term, cover crops used as an integral part of the farming strategy will improve farm incomes and sustainability by increasing soil fertility and productivity whilst reducing input costs.
- In our own trials work we have already seen some of these benefits from the use of cover crops compared to fallowing land between cash crops.
- The key element in improving soil health and productivity in the long term, is to increase its organic matter content and maintain living roots in the soil for as much of the year as possible. This can be done by selecting the correct cover crops for your farming operation.
- Carbon sequestration: cover crops can have a positive long-term effect on reducing greenhouse gases through the interaction between a diverse living cover and the soil biota, which are capable of storing the carbon element within the soil structure.
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