Crop farming has gone through several stages of evolution during past centuries and we are now in the beginning stages of another, the cover cropping revolution. Cover crops will bring farmers into the reality of teaming with the environment instead of brushing it aside to follow an incomplete comprehension of the natural world. Progress can only come with a deep awareness of the complexity and interrelationships that direct all organisms in the natural world.
Cover cropping is the connection between farming and the environment that has been lacking through the centuries and only now is obtaining a significant following and verifiable success. Cover cropping will also plug a hole in the declining diversity of crops and profit enterprises on our farms. By grazing cover crops with livestock, farmers and ranchers can add an additional income stream.
Millions of acres of farm ground are left bare and unproductive for half of each year. Think about the opportunities being missed! One half the year’s free solar energy is going to waste. Additional enterprises on a farm utilizing cover crops can alleviate the pressure off depending on only one or two commodity crops.
In this country, diversified farms with a combination of animals and crops were the norm in days gone by. Rotating crops, planting legumes and applying animal manure were common practices to build or retain fertility. This held on until the government began to subsidize grain crops, encouraging monoculture cropping. As farms sold off the animals and ceased crop rotations, fertility came from application of fertilizers. These modern techniques were lauded as the latest and most modern methods to improve farming and were necessary for efficient production.
What this “new” cropping system meant though, was that when the harvest was over, the ground is left bare. Bare ground means there are no live roots in the soil and no cover to protect the soil from evaporation, wind erosion, and water erosion.
Leaving crop land bare half the year can be equated to an engine without fuel half the year. It cannot furnish valuable work without fuel. So why leave the land bare half the year and lose the efficiency that could be gained by harvesting the sun’s free energy?.
Improving soil health is a continuing process that builds upon itself from management of available resources with very few added outside expenses. With every new level of soil health, another level of wealth is attained. This is as close as humans may get to perpetual motion
Management will define the level of success. Management is a thought process, combining knowledge, research, logic, intuition, and experience into a workable method. It often will mean getting rid of old assumptions, and traditions; allowing yourself to realize that what you thought you knew, you don’t. Clearing the mind will be daunting for some, exhilarating for others. Replacing old thinking with new will be the catalyst to invigorate reasoning, which will open up further possibilities. I hope one of them is a successful cover crop revolution.
This link is to one of the best explanations I have seen on the basics and benefits of soil health: 21st Century Soil Health. What it does not do is tell the whole story, which as I have explained above, is adding foraging animals as an added enterprise.