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5th Annual Organic Farm Innovation Expo August 15th, 2024 – Learn More

Use Cases For Cover Crops in Organic Farming

The use of cover crops is a technique adopted widely throughout the organic farming community. Cover crops are an important part of any soil health management plan, adding valuable nutrients to the soil and suppressing weeds in certain crops. While cover crops are a must have in no till farming practice, they can be highly valuable to farmers who rely heavily on mechanical weed control.

Some of the main advantages of using cover crops in organic farming:

  • Protect from soil erosion and nutrient loss 
  • Enhance water availability
  • Pest and disease control
  • Increase overall soil biodiversity
  • Weed reduction

The Advantages of Using Cover Crops in Organic Farming

The reasons for the use of cover crops are wide and organic and farmers that follow sustainable ag practices get value out of these non cash producing crops. 

When used correctly, cover crops provide a number of advantages to organic farmers.

  • Adds Nitrogen to the soil for the benefit of following crops
  • Increases bio-diversity in the soil
  • Aids in erosion reduction
  • Improves overall soil structure
  • Increases soil water retention
Photo shows a cover crop inter-seeded with a drone on a cash corn crop
Photo shows cover crop growth post harvest, when aerial seeded with a drone

Adds Nitrogen to the soil for benefit of following crops

Cover crops sequester carbon from the air, fixing Nitrogen in the soil that is plant available for a following crop.

Increases bio-diversity in the soil

Cover crops promote additional microbe species in the soil, adding to the bio-diversity of a farmers field. 

Aids in erosion reduction

Cover crops help reduce erosion in the soil. 

In situations where a farmer is working on hilly ground or in situations where the threat of erosion is high, cover crops can offer a significant advantage in the reduction of soil erosion. 

Improves overall soil structure

One of the reasons why no till practices have gained popularity in recent years is because of the soil structure benefits that the lack of tilling promotes.

Cover crops, when used in standard tilling operations can help to achieve this result. They improve the soil structure by promoting additional microbial species and helping water to remain near the top of the soil where it can be used for further plant benefit.

Increases soil water retention

A major advantage for using cover crops in an organic operation, or conventional, is that it helps to promote water availability for future plant health. Cover crops aid in keeping water near the soil surface, rather than draining further into the earth.

How To Use Cover Crops in Organic Farming

For farmers who practice mainly no till farming, cover crops are a must have piece of the puzzle. 

On the other side of the equation, farmers who do not practice no till farming and use mainly other methods of organic weed control, like tine weeders and cultivators, can still get a large benefit from the use of cover crops. 

Cover crops play an important role in the rotation of organic fields. Using cover crops has varied in popularity, largely to planting and time constraints on the farm. For farmers who can use cover crops as livestock forage, the benefit extends even further.

Photo shows a drone planting cover crops into standing corn
Photo shows our drone seeding cover crops into a standing corn field about 6 feet tall

Cover Crop Seeding Challenges

Making cover crops more effective for organic farming is always a hot talking point at conventions and winter conferences.

One of the major reasons cover crops are not used in organic farming operations is viability and planting challenges. Mechanical weed control operations are a critical part of growing a high yielding organic crop. 

Seeding cover crops should be done after early season weed control measures are completed and more often than not, the plant has reached a height that makes seeding cover crops impossible. 

Seeding Cover Crops With A Drone

CFS offers custom cover crop drone seeding in Minnesota and throughout the Upper Midwest. For more information, contact Brian Halonen at (320)266-8072 via call or text.

Seeding cover crops with a drone provides a tremendous advantage to organic farmers as it enables cover crops to be planted at any growth stage of the crop.

Types of Cover Crops Used in Organic Farming

The most common types of cover crops include: 

  • Alfalfa
  • Mustard
  • Rye
  • Clovers
  • Buckwheat
  • Cowpeas
  • Radish
  • Vetch
  • Sudan Grass
  • Austrian Winter Peas 

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