Cover cropping, the process of maintaining ground cover using specific crops such as grasses, legumes, cereals, herbs or brassica’s between priority cash crops, is a management tool being adopted worldwide for the conservation or improvement of soil health.
While the general philosophy of maintaining some form of ground cover is good, ground cover selection is very important within a cropping rotation. At Serve-Ag, experienced staff can provide you with advice on cover crop selection specific to your rotation and management needs. Whether you want to build soil organic matter, feed beneficial soil biology or target pest nematodes or soilborne diseases, we have superior cover crop varieties and management strategies to suit your requirements.
The general use of cover crops provides essential stabilisation of soils from wind and water erosion, helping to keep your soil and nutrients where they are needed most. Cover crops however provide so many other benefits, some of which provide immediate returns, while others may take years. Cover crop soil benefits typically include one or many of the following:
Deep soil conditioning – certain varieties of cover crops have deep strong tap roots that help to break up heavy compacted soils.
Shallow soil conditioning – Healthy fibrous root systems help to condition surface soils within the rooting depth of the following crop.
Organic matter – the incorporation of cover crops help to add essential organic matter and soil carbon, improving soil structure, and nutrient and moisture retention.
Nutrient scavenging – deep rooting cover crops can be very efficient at scavenging nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
Weed suppression – can be achieved via two ways; 1. fast establishing cover crops help to out-compete the growth of weeds, often minimising weed seed set within crops, 2. some cover crops exude natural chemical compounds that help to suppress weed growth, while others such as biofumigants release biocidal compounds upon maceration that help to minimise weed seed germination.
Beneficial soil biology – cover crops and their root exudates help to feed beneficial soil biology, which in-turn help to ‘glue’ soil particles together and provide nutrients to plant roots.
Pest and disease suppression – biofumigant cover crops release certain root exudates during growth, and natural biocidal chemicals upon maceration, that help to naturally suppress certain pests and diseases. For more information on biofumigants, follow this link.
Understanding your soil conditions, limitations and pest and disease pressures, helps to ensure the right cover crop is chosen for your rotation. It is important to know that while cover cropping provides many benefits, some cover crops may host certain diseases or pests, therefore creating more challenges for you.
To get the most from your cover crop, you also need to ensure it is managed as a crop, by providing the correct nutrition and irrigation requirements for it to perform optimally. The more you put into your cover crop, the more it will work for you, the following crop and your overall soil health.
Contact your local agronomist for cover crop selection and management advice, ensuring the right cover crop is chosen specific to your conditions and needs.