Planting cover crops to protect and improve the soil quality - for both large and small-scale farmers- has become so popular in Australia. But that is not without challenges.
In this article, you will discover the six most Important troubleshooting strategies for cover this summer season, but before that, there are two things you need to understand.
Cover crops refer to various fast-growing plants, mostly grasses or legumes, planted in the late summer or autumn to grow through the winter season. Examples include
- Grains- Wheat, oats, rye, and annual grasses
- Broadleaves- Alyssum, Mustard, and buckwheat
- Legumes- soybeans, vetch, clover, and peas
- What are the Benefits of Cover Crops?
As stated above, planting cover crops help preserve and improve the soil quality throughout the winter season to the next planting season. The goal is to maximize your yield for the next harvesting period. And how do they achieve that?
According to research cover cropping helps,
- Stop soil erosion
- Increase organic matter and nutrients to improve soil structure and boost soil fertility
- Increase the activity of beneficial microorganisms and earthworms in your soil
- Decrease compaction
- Improve air, water, and root penetration of your soil
- Provide a home and food such as pollen and nectar for useful insects
- To suppress weed growth and pest infestation on your land.
Please note that the overall success of your cover cropping will depend on the choices you make. You need to understand what you want to determine the strategy that works best for you.
Below are factors to consider
- Type of Cover Crop
So, what species of crop do you want to plant? Is it grains, legumes, or broadleaves? If it’s grains, is it wheat, oat, rye, or annual grass? If it's legumes, is it the soybeans or the peas? And if it’s the broadleaves, will it be buckwheat or the mustard? Choosing the specific type of crop to plant is the first and the most crucial factor to consider in determining the perfect cover cropping strategy. Some of the things that might influence this decision include
- Availability of the seeds
- Cost of purchasing the seed and maintaining the crop to maturity
- Your location and so on
- Consider Your Location
Where in Australia is your land located? Is it in Queensland? Victoria? South Australia? New South Wales? Northern Territory, or is it Western Australia? The location of your land will determine the perfect cover crop to plant this summer. Factors influencing this decision include
- The climate in your region- some cover crops thrive under certain climatic conditions better than others do.
- Topography- some regions are flat, others are sloping.
- Type of Irrigation System
What is your irrigation system? Is it drip or Furrow irrigation?
Drip irrigation is ideal for farming under dry conditions.
Furrow irrigation, on the other hand, has the potential risk to wash away the small seeds you plant
Your irrigation system will help you determine the perfect type of cover crop to plant this summer.
- Consider the Purpose
What is your reason for cover cropping? Or rather, what do you intend to achieve in the end? Your answers to these questions will affect several other factors, such as the type of cover crop and the method to use when planting your cover crop. Understanding the purpose for planting your cover crop is key to choosing your strategy. Some of the common reasons include
- Grazing- examples of cover crops for grazing include cowpeas, pearl millet, sorghum sudan grass, and turnips. Combining a very well-managed mixed crop farming and rotational grazing is an ideal strategy.
- Reducing Compaction- having a variety of roots is the key to maximize your benefits. The idea is to get the perfect combination of crops. A few examples include radishes and oats, oats and rye, legumes and oats, and so on,
- To increase nitrogen (N) in your soil- Legumes are perfect for that.
- Consider Your Timing
Your cover crop cropping strategy should complement your overall farming strategy, not replace it. That is what makes timing very important. Know the maturity period of your crops to choose the ideal time to plant, spray and harvest them. Plan your schedule and try to be as accurate as possible to maximize your benefits.
- Have an Alternative Plan
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a farmer is to work without a backup plan. Of course, the intention is to succeed the first time, but that is not a guarantee. When it comes to cover cropping, anything can go wrong at any time. You will need a backup plan to minimize your loss. For instance, choosing alternative seeds would be a wise idea if the ones you want are out of stock or contaminated. Also, remember to have a backup plan in case of the weather changes unexpectedly.
Now you know the six best cover cropping strategies to implement this summer. But your success will depend on how well you execute your plan.
- Take your time to make your decisions.
- Expect anything
- Don't expect to get instant results.
These are the three things you need to get the best outcome possible.