Conventional agricultural practices, despite their benefits for crop yield, are known to cause increased GHG emissions, water/air pollution and depleted soil fertility, thereby affecting human health.
One of the sustainable farming practices is the cover crops i.e crops planted to cover the soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested. They help in maintaining soil fertility, while also significantly improving crop yield.
What are the key sustainability benefits?
Cover crops help prevent soil erosion, regulate moisture, attract pollinators, assist in weed and pest management, serve as mulch and the source of green manure and organic matter, and are used for grazing or forage. They also can add or uptake nitrogen thus contributing to soil nutrient management.
Use of cover crops does not affect the environment and soil through pollution and other emissions.
How does this work?
Legumes and grasses (including cereals) are commonly used as cover crops which are in turn used for grazing or ploughed. To be effective in erosion control, cover crops must be planted in the early fall for it to attach well enough to the soil, and allowed to grow long enough in the spring to enhance soil cover.
Cover crops should be ploughed into the soil about 10 to 14 days before crop planting, especially when used in cotton systems.
Where is innovation needed (which part of the process)?
The main challenge faced by farmers in incorporating cover crops into their farming methods is lack of knowledge in choosing the right species for seeding, the time and labour involved in managing cover crops. Developing innovative solutions for cover crops management and novel training programs for farmers is needed.
Grass Cover Crops, Such as Rye and Winter Wheat, Are the Most Common Cover Crops Used Before Planting Corn, Soybeans, and Cotton
When choosing a cover crop, a farmer might consider a variety of factors, including the cost of the seed, the intended use, how the cover crop fits into the cash crop rotation and anticipated planting and harvest dates, and long-term management goals