Why You Should Take The Leap To Cover Cropping
Farmer's Weekly|November 23, 2018
Why You Should Take The Leap To Cover Cropping

A cover crop can play a valuable role in ensuring that a cropping operation grows and remains sustainable. Cover crops can be tricky to manage, however. In this first article in a series of three, veteran US farmer and cover crop coach Steve Groff explains why a farmer should not give up when trying to grow a cover crop for the first time. Lloyd Phillips reports.

Lloyd Phillips

The use of cover crops as a conservation agriculture tool is relatively new in South Africa. It is therefore important that the country’s farmers work together to adapt cover cropping methods to suit production conditions here if this beneficial concept is to gain widespread traction and achieve the envisaged results, says US farmer and cover crop coach Steve Groff.

“At first, not every idea will work, but teamwork and persistence will ultimately pay off,” he says. “Cover cropping is a simple and good concept, but it’s complex to achieve success with it. Like no-till, cover cropping is a tool to achieve healthy soil and resultant sustainable crop production. But a farmer must understand what the tool is intended for and how to use it properly for it to be effective.”

Groff advises newcomers to start by implementing cover cropping on only 10% of their lands.

“[In this case,] if you fail at first, it’s unlikely to have any significant negative impact on your farming business. You can then try again along a different route until you get cover cropping right. When you get it right, you can gradually expand its use across your farm.”

According to Groff, a crop farmer should manage the soil to mimic undisturbed natural conditions, where a wide variety of plants grow in the soil and help form it. While it may not always be possible for crop farmers to have diversity at all times, the goal should be to implement it whenever the opportunity presents itself. This could be in off-crop seasons, via intercropping, or on a part of the farm that is being rested.

‘TREAT COVER CROPS AS YOU WOULD CASH CROPS’

Groff stresses that one of the most important messages he can share with conservation agriculture farmers is: “If you treat your cover crops the way you treat your cash crops, you’ll set yourself up for success. Just as you are ready to plant your cash crops at the first opportunity that presents itself, you should be ready when the first opportunity to plant a cover crop presents itself. Soil health can’t be bought, it has to be made.”

He adds that every conservation agriculture farmer should have a mentor – someone who is already successful at managing cover crops. The farmer and mentor should engage regularly, even if by telephone or email, as frequent discussions stimulate the thinking and analysis that lead to solutions and progress.

“Forming farmer discussion groups is also a great help. Managing cover crops successfully is far too complex to achieve on your own. I’ve been managing cover crops for 35 years but I still consult my mentor, Frederic Thomas, who lives in France.”

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November 23, 2018