Why Cover Crops Are the Solution to Rapid Soil Degradation – Food Tank

About a third of arable land is now moderately to severely degraded, costing the world a lot $400 billion in annual agricultural production, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). However, cover crops offer a potential solution, delivering urgently needed environmental and economic benefits to farmers around the world.

According to Better Soils, Better Lives founder Roland Bunch, unsustainable farming practices driven by population growth are taking over ancient conservation techniques like fallow forests in sub-Saharan Africa. replaced. “As a result, the organic matter content of the soil has dropped from his normal 4 percent before the 1980s to less than 1 percent today,” he says. write.

Soil organic matter (SOM) can provide immense benefits to soils, such as stronger soil structure, higher water retention, enhanced nutrient profile, and increased resilience to chemical changes. study in the journal of Environmental monitoring and evaluationLack of SOM is an important indicator of soil degradation.

Using cover crops is one way to build SOMs on farms.bundle Define It covers crops as “plants, including trees, bushes, creepers and vines, that fertilize the soil, control weeds, and overcome drought.” These crops can be grown alongside cash crops or after harvest.Commonly used cover crops, especially grasses and legumes, can be annual, biennial, or perennial Breed.

Environmental scientist and adjunct professor Katharhy F. told Food Tank:By adding biomass to the soil, cover crops stimulate trillions of microbes to break down the minerals plants need to grow, he explains. meta-analysis was published in the magazine of soil biology and biochemistry We found that cover crops can increase microbial abundance by nearly 30% compared to barren fields.

Some cover crops are scavengers, collecting nutrients left behind from cash crops that would otherwise be lost through erosion. Others convert nitrogen gas into a form that plants can use. Attracts bacteria.

Cover crops also act as important carbon sinks. When plants absorb sunlight and convert it into carbon sugars through photosynthesis, roots nourish microorganisms, which break down the carbon and store it in the soil. This is known as carbon sequestration.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE), cover crops could sequester the equivalent of 60 million tons of carbon dioxide annually if planted on 20 million acres across the United States. there is. Removed 12.8 million passenger cars from the road. Furthermore, in his eight-year study conducted in Ontario, Canada, each of the covercrop varieties tested increased the organic carbon content of the soil compared to control fields without covercrops. I understand.

Bunch adds that cover crops can mitigate the effects of drought. “According to scientific studies done here in Malawi, [cover crops] In degraded soil, rainwater infiltration increases from about 15% to 60%,” he tells Food Tank.

Cover crops also provide a physical cover that blocks sunlight, retains soil moisture, and inhibits weed growth.

These environmental benefits help support optimal outcomes for farmers. That means healthier, more solid cash crop yields, even in drought conditions. Results may be slow at first, but “by the third year his corn yield should double and by the sixth year he should triple,” he stresses. increase.

In addition to generating direct economic benefits for farmers, cover crops offer significant cost savings. By improving soil health, you can “reduce your financial liability to environmental conditions,” Kathary F. tells her Food Tank. For example, more stable soils help prevent runoff, lowering the risk of punitive costs from water contamination.

“Natural capital returns” also reduce the need for expensive inputs, he says. More nutrients in the soil allow farmers to use less fertilizer, less weeds from cover crops mean less herbicide application, more biodiversity interrupts pest and disease cycles, Demand for pesticides will decrease. On the other hand, improved soil moisture means farmers face less economic risk from erratic rainfall caused by climate change.

Growers around the world are turning to these immense benefits. “More than 15 million farmers [cover crops]says Bunch.Department of Agriculture numbers reveals a 50% increase in cover crop plantings between 2012 and 2017.

Bunch argues that lack of knowledge is one of the biggest obstacles to the use of cover crops. When resources and expertise are limited, it can be difficult to determine which crops are most effective. It’s just a matter of figuring out what system you need and training farmers on how to manage it,” he told Food Tank.

Katharhy F. believes that farmers are in a position to adopt and disseminate this knowledge. “Sometimes game-changing ideas need timing, and I think now is the right time.”

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Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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