The American Dust Bowl was a reminder about taking care of the soil. Yet here we are only 75 years beyond that deadly scourge and we find that the soil is still taken for granted.
Cover crops are an inexpensive way to replenish the soil. Here are some benefits to consider:
- Keeping something green on the fields year ’round will keep the soil in place. Reduce or eliminate erosion. Reduce or eliminate topsoil being removed by wind. Annual ryegrass along the nation’s waterways would greatly reduce the dire problems in the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico and many other places, because of agricultural runoff.
- The roots of annual ryegrass penetrate deep into the soil, breaking up compaction, creating millions of channels that allow other crops to follow.
- Corn roots can’t penetrate compaction. So, in dry years, corn suffers because the roots hit the compaction and then go laterally instead of deeper. Annual ryegrass roots extend to depths of 5 feet or more over the winter, passing right through compacted layers.
- When ryegrass is killed off in the spring, the mass of roots becomes organic matter, food for all kinds of critters that live mostly below ground.
- Once those channels open up, rainfall and snow melt can more easily be absorbed into the soil. Corn and other cash crops can find moisture and nutrients in deeper soil.
- Cover crops, both the live plants and the decaying residue, are fodder for many life forms, including microorganisms, that are beneficial for soil health.