THE USE of cover crops has grown like — ahem — a weed in the agriculture industry. Cover crops offer a lot of advantages and benefits to both farmers and ranchers, but it’s a good idea to do your research before choosing one to plant.
Cover crops are usually small grains, legumes, or grasses, though just about any plant can be considered a cover crop if it meets the definition. Usually, the crop is not planted for harvesting or sending to market; its main purpose is to be tilled back into the ground at some point to add nutrients back in to the soil. Cover crops can be planted in the “off season,” in tandem with cash crops or in the rows between crops.
The benefits of cover crops do not stop at recharging the soil. Cover crops might also:
• offer forage for livestock
• control weeds
• slow or stop soil erosion
• provide protection to crops when planted adjacently or in tandem
• offer an additional income, such as with hay
• create habitats for beneficial birds and insects
• help control certain harmful nematodes
When choosing a cover crop, it’s important to do research on the best cover crop for the region and for what a farmer or rancher wants out of the crop, such as controlling erosion or offering forage. Choosing an incorrect cover crop can tie up nutrients, like nitrogen, for too long; encourage pests or disease; create challenges while harvesting; or they could interfere with cash crops.
A local Extension Office is an excellent source for information on the best cover crops for your area of the region, the cash crops grown in the same soil, and your soil needs.
column by MIKE MARTIN
BIO: Michael Martin of Martin Law Office in Lakeland specializes in agriculture and environmental legal representation. A native of Polk County, Mike attended college at Sewanee in Tennessee, before obtaining a doctorate in law from the University of Florida. He has tried numerous cases nationwide since that time. Mike also serves as the director of the FFA Foundation and is the author of the novel, The Crestfallen Rose.
Posted April 12, 2016