Cover crops can benefit agriculture for many reasons. Traditionally cover crops were used to protect water quality and to prevent soil erosion. With the knowledge of plants increasing, we know that cover crops can be used for more non-traditional uses. Cover crops are being used for weed suppression and to fight insect and nematode invasions. Research is currently being done throughout the United States to learn to best uses of cover crops to increase soil health. Cover crops are also be used to help farms survive through variability in weather patterns such as the drought of 2012. Cover crops are an exciting area in our modern agricultural world that farmers in the past used but did not understand all the facets of the practice; they just knew it made good environmental and financial sense.
The application of cover crops into a farming system provides many beneficial results with regard to controlling soil erosion, nitrogen management, pest control, and enhancing overall soil quality. Cover crops take work however, and require attention and annual maintenance in order to keep them effective and prevent them from spreading like weeds. NRCS encourages farmers to integrate cover crops into their farming plans. Enable cover crops to be a part of NRCS conservation plans. Complement a cover crop practice with other agency program practices to get the full utilization of your work.
There are many ways that you can successfully select the proper cover crop for your farm. Below are a few resources to get you started.
There is a valuable tool that can be found at the Midwest Cover Crop Council website. After selecting your county of interest for your farming system, the tool will look at location, weather and soil type, and it will give you a recommendation for what to plant and how to plant. From this site, farmers can link to the cover crop decision tool and select the proper cover crop species to use on your farm.
Check out Michigan State University Extension's cover crop website for more information.