Happy Earth Day everyone! It’s not only the greatest day of the year, but also the last day of the EarthScout Spring Webinar Series 2022!
I would like to think that we planned to talk about cover crops on Earth Day, but it was just a happy accident. Nonetheless, we feel that employing a cover crop practice on your farm is extremely valuable to our planet! Let’s get into this week’s topic then, shall we?
Cover crops can be used in any crop: orchards, row crops, cannabis, fruits and vegetables etc. They can be grown during the off season as winter cover crops, cover crops can be grown between rows as mulch with fruits and vegetables, cover crops can be grown (in crop rotations) during the growing season to prepare the soil for the following year. So many options and so many possibilities.
So, let’s dig into what Anna had to say this week. If you’d like to watch the recording of this webinar, you can watch the video on YouTube or at the end of this blog
What are cover crops?
Simply put, a cover crop is a plant that is used primarily to slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, smother weeds, or control pests and disease. A cover crop is meant to be grown to increase biodiversity and improve your growing environment.
You can start planning a cover crop practice by identifying your primary goals. Some common goals include:
- Increasing Soil Organic Matter
- Improving Soil Structure
- Increasing Nitrogen in the soil
- Reducing soil erosion
- Creating a moisture conserving mulch
Time and Place
In order to plan the timing and placement of cover crops in your growing system, you will need to look ahead about 18-36 months. Look for open periods in each field that correspond with favorable conditions for cover crop establishment.
For example, you may seed a cover crop after harvesting your summer crop while the weather is still mild, so the cover crop has time to establish before winter. Sometimes in vegetables there can be a few weeks of summer fallow between early planted crops and late planted crops that could be a window for cover crop usage.
The window of opportunity for planting cover crops is different for every grower, crop, and location so please consult with your local agronomist or cover crop seed specialist.
Cover crops can be worked into any kind of management system, but they are usually used in no-till systems. Certain cover crops can help break up soil compaction with their roots and all of them help speed up the breakdown of crop residue by increasing the biological activity within the soil.
Having living roots in the soil for as much time as possible helps soil biology by providing a food source for microbes during an otherwise non-cropping season.
What are the benefits of cover crops?
Better Soil Structure: having better soil structure means you have a better water holding capacity.
Reduced Erosion: having plants covering the soil and roots holding the soil together helps keep soil in place during high wind and rain events. Cover crops slow surface and subsurface water flow which increases the amount of time the soil has to absorb and hold water.
Weed Suppression: Cover crops can shade and smother out weeds, reducing reliance on chemical inputs.
Fixing Nutrients: Cover crops help tighten the nutrient cycling loop in a field by taking up nutrients that otherwise might leach or run out of the soil. These nutrients remain in the field as the cover crop decomposes, becoming available to the next primary crop. Cover crops can also bring nutrients back to the upper soil profile from deeper in the soil, helping the next crop with nutrient access.
Increase Organic Matter: Organic matter includes thousands of different substrates derived from decayed leaves, roots, manure, and microorganisms. These substrates act in different ways to build healthier soils. Increasing organic matter increases water infiltration rates and water holding capacity, improves soil structure, and helps with nutrient retention.
Pairing EarthScout Data with Cover Crops
EarthScout assists in tracking the changes in your soil conditions when you make changes to the management of your soil. We are a relatively young company, but we know that the value of the data that we collect is embedded in long term use, year after year. You can make daily decisions with our soil moisture data (in real time) on irrigation, but for these large management decisions, you have to stick with it and give it time.
We have preliminary data from an EarthScout user who is comparing soil moisture in two fields that are managed in different ways. One field is cover cropped and no till, and the other is no cover crop and tilled.
The two locations were chosen because the soil is the most alike, making our comparisons more accurate. There are natural differences that occur in fields, so let’s we will take that into consideration, as well as weather. The fields are both managed as “dryland”, meaning, no irrigation is used.
You can see some major differences at the 6 inch and 12 inch level between the cover crop vs no cover crop fields. You can tell that there were rain events (peaks in moisture) but there is a difference in how the moisture drops in each field. At 12 inches, the moisture was significantly more stable in the no-till cover crop field.
This project is ongoing. There will be at least one more year of data associated with comparing no-till cover cropping to no cover cropping and till fields. We will publish a larger case finding at the completion of this project.
NRCS funding opportunities surrounding cover crops
Cover crops are known as a “climate smart agriculture practice” per the USDA and they benefit soils and a farms’ overall bottom line. This practice is so important that the USDA and NRCS are investing $38 million into a targeted EQIP Cover Crop Initiative in 11 states across the USA.
We encourage you to try incorporating cover crops into your farm over time, if you aren’t already. It is a great way to ensure that your farm will be sustainable in the long run!
This completes the first EarthScout Webinar Series. We deeply appreciate everyone who registered, attended, and watched the recordings of this series. We look forward to hosting more educational events in the future, so stay tuned!
If you missed any of the last 5 weeks of our webinar series, you can check out our YouTube Channel for access to all the recordings from this series, as well as our other educational content.
- Week 1 served as an Introduction to EarthScout, the history of the company, and the products we offer farmers and growers.
- Week 2 was a deep dive into the available sensors EarthScout offers.
- Week 3 was all about Understanding Soil Moisture and Soil Moisture Management
- Week 4 focused on Mid-Season and End of Season Reports
- Week 5 talked about Irrigation Case Studies
If you have any questions about our products and services, please reach out to us via phone at 877-443-7632 or through our website at earthscout.com/contact!