Controlling soil erosion with cover crops

Cover crops can be used to impede soil erosion off of fields.

The reasons why farmers use cover crops are as varied as the number of species that can be used as a cover crop. Traditionally cover crops were used for erosion control. Recent water quality concerns has brought the discussion on cover crops and soil erosion back to the forefront.

Cover crops are a great tool that farmers can use to minimize soil movement off of field. Active roots in the soil hold the soil from water erosion while above ground growth shields soil movement from wind erosion. Covering the soil also protects the soil from rainfall splatter. When it rains, water hits the soil at a great impact causing soil to be displaced. The following chart rates cover crop species ability to decrease soil erosion. The rating encompasses both root and plant growth.
 

Excellent

Very Good

Good

Fair

Barley

Annual Ryegrass

Hairy Vetch

Buckwheat

Cereal Rye

Oat

Red Clover

 

Sorghum-Sudan

Wheat

Cowpea

Mustard

Radish

Rapeseed

Berseem Clover

Crimson Clover

Field Pea

Sweetclover

White Clover

 

Chart information taken from Managing Cover Crops Profitably third edition, SARE Handbook Series 9.

For more information or to help decide what cover crop will be best for your farm contact Michigan State University Extension educators Christina Curell, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or Paul Gross, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). More information can also be found at the Midwest Cover Council website.