Cover cropping, otherwise known as a catch crop, is the act of saving the soil through alternate and selective crop planting. You plant a crop not only to harvest but to cover the soil to restore its fertility. It is like intentionally planting unwanted crops to fulfill the purpose. And it acts like a scavenger crop that helps you clean or revitalize the soil and make it suitable for farming.
The end goal and success are not about how you do it but how you save the soil and ultimately save the environment. Cover crops revitalize soil health, prevent soil erosion, control the occurrence of pests, weeds, and diseases, and most of all preserve biodiversity.
As you consistently use the soil and consume its nutrients, you deplete its nutrients and fertility, resulting in barren or useless soil.
For sustainable farming, you can apply the cover cropping method to your field. To succeed in doing the process, you must know the basics and apply everything that you will learn herein.
A Healthy Soil
The soil is the primary source of nutrients, oxygen, water, and root support of the plants. Soil is needed for the plants to grow and flourish. It is also needed to protect plant roots from drastic external forces such as temperature changes.
More than anything else, healthy soil is a living ecosystem of microscopic organisms that performs vital functions. Soil converts dead and decaying matter and performs critical regeneration processes of minerals into essential plant nutrients. Soil determines the nutrient capacity that will indicate and improve healthy crop production. Above all, healthy soil increases its carbon content and helps mitigate climate change.
To preserve and maintain the potency of the soil and make it sustainable, you must introduce cover cropping into your farming method. It would be best if you learn more about cover cropping so that the process will be efficient, valuable, and successful.
The Cover Crop
Like any farming method, cover cropping has significant purposes that you would want to realize, and among them are the following:
Reduce Soil Erosion
In farming, soil erosion is one of the eminent problems that farmers commonly encounter. It is a natural movement of the topsoil caused by agents like wind, water, mass movement, or tillage. When the soil encounters these agents, it will result in soil erosion wherein the most fertile layer of the soil is eroded or removed and thus end in long-term soil degradation.
To avoid or reverse the long-term effect of soil erosion, you must apply cover cropping. You can plant non-legume cover crops like barley, wheat, rye, and triticale. These crops reduce soil loss from 32 % to 100%. You can also plant legumes on your farm like lentils, pea, or crimson clover to reduce soil loss by 38 % – 69%. While the best cover crop for soil erosion is mustard which reduces soil loss by up to 82%.
Controls Weeds, Pests, and Diseases
Cover crops have multiple effects on agriculture; among them are reductions of insect infestation, eradication of diseases, weeds, and nematodes. The cover crops seeded in between alleys of the main crops limit the presence of weed, while cover crop mulch limits the growth of weeds. And it also reduces soil-borne pathogens from splashing into the leaves and ultimately to other crops.
Pathogen like verticillium wilt is best eradicated by cover crops like sudangrass, mustards, and brassicas. The crops are also good in the eradication of other soil pathogens. Verticillium wilt usually affects the leaves of plants that commonly appear on warm and sunny days. The disease can damage the leaves that eventually result in inadequate production or even death of plants.
Correct identification of cover crops can help the crop healthily grow and produce a disease-free and bountiful harvest.
Cover cropping improves biodiversity on a farm. A biodiverse field hosts more soil organisms like fungi, bacteria, earthworms, redworms, and nightcrawlers. Having them in one field will result in biodiverse soil. And the biodiverse environment of the field will result in healthier soil attained through crop rotation.
You can make a crop rotation technique by growing mixes of cover crops. Also, you can get the best result by doing crop rotation of various crops. You can plant cereal rye before soybean, oats, radish, or crimson clover before planting corn. These crop rotation methods best create a biodiverse life in the soil that ultimately benefits each crop you plant within the farm area.
Cover cropping is a unique method of ensuring sustainability in farming. It significantly contributes to robust farm production and a bountiful harvest. Cover crops can be a wanted crop or simply an alternate crop that you would only plant for a particular purpose without benefiting the harvest.
Essentially, cover cropping does not only improve your farming method but ultimately saves the environment. And this is the most remarkable benefit that you could get from the correct application of cover cropping.