A hot topic in regenerative farming circles these past few years is the use of cover crops. Do they have a place in ‘modern’ farming practices. Modern mostly meaning supply/demand/government subsidies/market considerations. Modern farming practices currently are very hard on soil health and microbes.
Nevertheless, there are some farmers who had embraced cover cropping decades ago with huge successes in improving soils and yields, some are just now dipping their toes in the ‘new’ (actually ancient) practice, and still others staunchly refuse to consider them.
These principles have been around for centuries, but more recently promoted by Ray Archuleta, Gabe Brown, Jay Fuhrer, Jon Srika, and others
Five Principles of Soil Health:
- Limit Disturbance – limit mechanical, chemical, and physical disturbance of soil. Widespread tillage destroys soil structure and function.
- Keep the Soil Covered – maintain an armor of plant residue on the soil surface. Residue can inhibit weed growth, moderate soil temperature, reduce erosion, reduce evaporation, and provide organic matter for soil microbes.
- Promote and Build Diversity – incorporating cover crops or diversifying your crop rotation or both! The synergy of diverse root exudates improves soil health.
- Keep Living Roots in the Soil – keep living roots in the soil for as many months as possible. Converting solar energy to biological energy feeds mycorrhizal fungi. Miles of roots hold soil in place and increases water holding capacity.
- Integrate Animals – Properly managed grazing animals taking a bite of grass pumps more carbon back into the system. Slobber, urine, manure, biting and ripping grasses, all add so much to the system, it’s impossible to discuss in this short blog.
For full stories and explanation of these five principles, i highly recommend Gabe Brown’s excellent book, Dirt to Soil.