Recently the seasons aren’t as short as they used to be, and they tend to be wetter, leaving farmers wondering what to do with all that excess moisture. That’s just one reason why cover crops might make sense, says Yvonne Lawley, a cropping systems researcher at the University of Manitoba.
Cover crops are being used as green manure for organic production, as catch crops to prevent nutrient leaching, to improve soil organic matter and nutrient cycling, break up hardpan, protect soils from erosion and to increase the productivity of grazing systems.
But Lawley said the soil health benefits of cover crops go beyond those traditional objectives.
“If we think about the whole chain of microbes that exist in soil, they’re really being fed by the inputs and cycling of nutrients within the agro-ecosystem. If we can have plants growing for a longer period of time, capturing more sun, we can provide more input through either organic matter or exudates from roots that feed the fungi, bacteria and nematodes that then feed the higher trophic structure like earthworms.”