Improving Soil Quality with Cover Crops

Tanja Folnovic

Agronomy Expert

Even though different soils have some properties that cannot be changed, such as texture, soil quality can be improved by implementing good management strategies. Properly managed cover crops can improve soils for water holding capacity, drainage, structure, and even the ability for plant roots to penetrate through the soil. They enrich soil with organic matter, cycle nutrients and protect soil from water and wind erosion.

Cover crop selection and management depend on many factors, among them the cover crop’s ability to accumulate dry matter and nitrogen. Dry matter provides energy for soil organisms, contributes to soil organic matter, improves tilth and acts as a sink for nutrients. 

As cover crops can be used: annyal ryegrass, barley, oats, triticale, buckwheat, cereal rye, common vetch, crimson clover, fava bean, field pea, hairy vetch, rapeseed, red clover, subterranean clovers, Sudangrass, sorghum- Sudangrass hybrids and wheat.

They are not usually grown for harvest, but as a green manure they serve many other functions in crop production systems. 

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Possible cover crops

When included in a crop rotation green manures offer many benefits; act as temporary nutrient storage units that limit nitrogen losses from leaching or from processes that make the nitrogen less available to plants during fallows. They also break disease cycles and compete with weeds and provide habitat for beneficial insects, such as parasitic wasps.

Despite these many advantages, farmers may hesitate to use cover crops. The cover crop year is a year with no income, yet it still requires the input of seed. Green manures can use up limited water reserves and small seeded crops can be difficult to establish. Weed control can be difficult.
Many of the problems associated with cover crop management can be overcome with careful crop selection and crop management. Seed costs are often less for smaller seeded crops and a farmer can reduce the impact of seed costs by growing his or her own seed. Weed number and size are generally less when the seeding rate is higher. Weeds also add soil nitrogen and organic matter, though they may interfere with the growth of the cover crop. It is generally recommended that cover crops be terminated before weeds set seed.

Cover crops, with their many biological roles, are useful in low-input cropping systems. Cover crop selection and the management practices chosen will depend on the farmer’s priorities in growing the green manure. Short-term difficulties such as taking a field out of production for a year can be balanced against long-term advantages such as reducing the depletion of soil organic matter, soil nitrogen, and soil phosphorous.

Cover crops for green manure in your crop rotation you can easily track through Agrivi farm system. At any moment you can see each field utilization and in which period some plot is empty, to easily decide what to sow next, considering on previous crop.