Today’s farming methods, using fertilizers and herbicides has led to higher yields but have inadvertently hindered root systems that support microbial activity and insect life. Both are vital to soil vigor, healthy crop yields and a sustainable soil environment.
Climate Smart Agriculture
Enter, cover cropping. Cover cropping is the practice where fields are planted with non-cash crops to fortify the soil after fall’s bounty. This system of seeding the fields between harvests protects topsoil from rain runoff suppresses weeds, improves soil aggregate stability, suppresses soil diseases and pests. Generally providing improved soil health by biological means. A back to basics approach that increases yields and soil quality while reducing or often eliminating the use of fertilizers.
As carbon is replenished in the soil water is stored naturally and makes a more stable structure. Cornell University’s Soil Health Team offers an online tool to determine which conditions of soil health needs improvement and provides combination recommendations for growers.
Although there is support for cover cropping change comes slowly. The biggest obstacle to more farmers adopting cover crops is lack of research on its benefits. Farmers are circumspect to urge their peers to crop cover, as it implies a criticism of current practices that have garnered greater productivity and less work. One Indiana family that has collected some data on yields has found an increase in organic matter increased their corn yields an average of 12.8 bushels per acre. Further, cover crops can be a value added market if partnered with locally grown cultural choices for the craft beer market, restaurants, various communities “Go Local” campaigns and the explosive growth of the Organic Foods markets.
Landowner farmers are the key to making cover cropping the norm as they have the best incentive to support soil quality conservation effort making the soil a richer and better for generations to come.