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Fall Cover Crops Prepare the Soil for Spring Crops

By John Graham, Soil Health Specialist for NRCS in Kentucky

The cold weather has moved into the Commonwealth but landowners who planted their fall cover crops in late October or earlier this month can be confident that their soil is protected from the rough weather conditions. Planting the fall cover crop is an essential part of healing our soil according to John Graham, Soil Health Specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “Since we measure soil health by the soil’s physical, biological and chemical properties, we need to farm in such a way that we not only stop degrading these soil properties but farm in a way that heals these soil properties, “ John said. He continued, “Cover crops are an essential part of healing the soil’s physical, biological, and chemical properties. “

Soils have been damaged over the years by tillage operations as well as by the fertilizer and chemical applications used on the crops. By reducing or eliminating the use of tillage, fertilizers and chemicals, further soil degradation can be prevented. Unfortunately, these practices alone do little to heal the soil from its current state. Cover crops allow the soil to have a live root growing 365 days a year, rebuilding the physical properties of the soil. “Plant roots are the home for microbes that rebuild soil structure,” said John. Cover crops keep that live root growing all year long.

Cover crop mixtureSelecting the right cover crop mixture is important. NRCS has soil health experts available to answer all your questions. The diversity of the plants attracts diverse microbes, resulting in a healthy food web. When microbes are part of a healthy natural nutrient cycle, no chemicals are needed. John said, “Landowners who catch on to the soil health method of farming with cover crops reap substantial financial rewards both in commercial fertilizer and chemical savings.”

 

Landowners who use cover crops and especially cover crop mixtures that target improvements in soil health can expect: soil health

  • better infiltration
  • better permeability
  • more pore space
  • more water holding capacity
  • more homes for microbes
  • more cycling of nutrients
  • reduction or elimination of fertilizers/chemicals
  • increases in soil organic matter

For more information on improving your soil’s health, contact your local USDA Service Center or visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/ky/soils/.