Great Lakes

Agricultural Practices: Cover Crops

Between the harvesting of last season’s crop and the planting of the next, it has been common for farm fields to be left barren or covered with the remnants of last year’s crop. When barren fields are left exposed to the elements during the winter months, and with the melt of spring, loose soil and nutrients can be carried away to run off into streams, rivers and lakes.

Farmers are increasingly realizing the benefits of cover crops, typically barley, oats, rye or alfalfa, which in addition to improving the health of the farmer’s soil, also help keep soil in the field and out of our freshwater resources. Typically planted in the late summer, they cover fields and stabilize soil with their roots during the winter months--but that’s not all. They also replenish important nutrients, and they can help control pests and weeds.

As the cover crops decompose in the field, they also add beneficial organic matter to the land that further increases soil health.


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