Cover Crops for Different Uses
Cover crops can increase organic matter, fix nitrogen, prevent nutrient loss and boost water infiltration – all of which benefit the cash crop that follows. When manure is combined into cover crop rotations, it further provides a slow release nitrogen source into cropping systems. By keeping nitrogen in an organic form, nitrate leaching into groundwater can be reduced up to 29%.
Deep and interconnected roots of a cover crop hold soil in place and above ground vegetation absorbs the impact of raindrops, reducing erosion and loss of nutrients caused by torrential rainfall. Cover crops also reduce erosion in dry weather or during winter from strong winds. For some farmers using no-till, cover crops provide additional benefits and may be a way to boost yields in long-term no-till systems over time.
Cover crops can help control weeds through competition (light, water, nutrients), physical suppression and allelopathy. Cover crops can also be an important tool in managing difficult-to-control weeds like Palmer amaranth and Marestail.
For some Nebraska farmers, cover crops can be used as a high-quality forage resource harvested by haying, grazing or ensiling. Some cover crops are ideal for filling grazing forage gaps when other pasture resources are limited.