the benefits of cover crops
February 18, 2020
We recently invited an expert on cover crops up from Washington. His visit brought many exciting new ideas to the table, and we wanted to share a few of those things with you. See below for an interview with our consultant, Rico Thorsen, providing a summary of what we’re learning on cover crops. Or watch the video version of the interview here:
What is a cover crop?
A cover crop is a crop that someone purposefully plants or seeds that is NOT their cash crop. It’s there to support the main growing system or build soils – but it’s not what someone is intentionally growing for commercial value.
What is the biggest misconception about cover crops in the industry?
The biggest misconception of cover crops, both in agriculture and in horticulture, is that supposedly they compete with cash crops. Since World War II, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to keep our crops “clean”. It’s always been about only growing and having in our soil the crop we’re trying to get commercial value out of. Those times are changing. We’re becoming much wiser. In fact, the more we learn about cover crops, the more we’ve realised that the complete opposite is actually true …
What are the benefits of using cover crops?
The benefits of cover crops are many. First of all when you decide to grow cover crops you have to be clear about your intentions. Are you trying to suppress weeds? Are you trying to build soils? Are you trying to break up a hard pan in your soil? Are you trying to fix nitrogen? Bring in beneficial insects?
The list is long. You can also create blends of cover crops that do a little bit of everything. In summary, the trick to getting all sorts of benefits out of your cover crops is that you must have a clear outcome in mind when deciding which cover crops to plant.
What is something new you learned about cover crops that you will be implementing this year?
We learned this year that it is actually possible to be building our soils at the same time we are growing our cash crop. And that’s particularly important for us in growing trees because trees are very hard on our soils in that they take a lot out of the soil as they grow.
Having the ability to build our soils by growing the right cover crop while we are still growing our trees is a big one. And that is the exact thing we’ll be working on this year. We’ll be taking some measurements before and after to prove that we can indeed do this and to what extent we can successfully accomplish this.
What are the pros and cons of cover crops?
Really the only con with cover crops is if cover crops are used incorrectly. If you didn’t do your research and didn’t understand what the varieties you planted were doing, it is possible to create competition between your cover corp and your cash crop. But as long as you do your research to figure out what the right varieties are for your cash crop – selecting a companion plant rather than a competing plant – you’ll be fine.
That’s about the only con. The pros list is really long – read the rest of the article for many pros on cover crops.
If you could give one tip on cover crops what would it be?
One tip we’d give to all growers on the topic of cover crops is to “get into it”. Really get to understand the benefit they can have for you. There aren’t many crops today – whether it’s in agriculture or horticulture – that would not and could not benefit from the grower researching what their crop needs and then matching it with a complimentary cover crop. That’s our biggest tip: research it, look into it, get into it. You will save money, your farm will look prettier and your cash crop will reap the benefits.
What is your favourite cover crop and why?
I don’t have one. I really don’t. I’ve really gotten to love a mixture. Usually these mixtures include different textures, different blooms and these bloom are at different times… so really a cover crop blend is what I prefer! It’s nice to be able to go out and watch the blend grow, measure the before and after of the cover crop’s effect. I love the idea of the multiple levels that you can test for during the growing season and after.
If you found this interview helpful, please let us know! We’re passionate about providing you with useful information that benefits YOU. Email us your ideas.