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Prior to the Green Revolution, cover crops were very common in cash crop rotations, as they were recognized as being useful for fixing nitrogen (N), suppressing weeds and preventing erosion. The development of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides changed all that and the proliferation of monocultures swiftly followed. But cover crops are making a comeback, as their importance to healthy soils — and the balance sheet — are being increasingly well documented. To improve your chances of succeeding with cover crops, consider the following strategies.
In a crop rotation system, it is important to choose cover crops with functional diversity says Jennifer Blesh, an agroecologist with the University of Michigan. However, there is some debate out there about how much diversity is ideal.
“What I’ve found is the importance of making sure that cover crop species have functional complementarity,” Blesh says. “For example, one species has N-fixing abilities, like legumes, while another species has nutrient scavenging abilities, such as grasses, and yet another species has weed suppression capabilities, like brassicas.”
To meet this balance between cover crop species, Blesh says that even establishment is essential, so the species of covers and seeding timing must be carefully selected.
“It’s a good idea to try to grow a crop like a small…