Cover Crops Increase Yield and Soil Fertility in Winter Wheat

attachmentBy Swahili Scientist

A study published in the Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment journal found that the use of cover crops, also called green manure, help alleviate the disadvantages of not tilling soil.

Cover crops are crops that are sown around the crops of interest in order to protect them, a farming technique that has been employed for thousands of years. Soil tilling refers to the cultivation of the soil using a harrow, plow, or other farm implements in order to prepare the field for crop production.

Research has shown that reducing soil tillage while utilizing cover crops at the same time increased soil fertility. Cover crops also eliminate the disadvantages of reduced soil tillage, which include yield reduction and problems with weeds.

The researchers conducted a three-year experiment in Switzerland. They set up eight cover crop treatments, which were cultivated for a short two-month period between two types of winter wheat. They obtained the highest wheat yield with minimum tillage when field peas were used as cover crops.

Meanwhile, with the crops that were not tilled, wheat yield was significantly low, except in the field pea treatments, where wheat yield was the same as those with minimum tillage. The researchers found that crop cultivation could increase soil organic carbon and total nitrogen, especially with reduced tilling.

Therefore, it was determined that using a well-developed cover crop for just two months can support wheat yield and boost the fertility of the soil in the long run, even if the soil is not tilled. Lastly, this technique has been used with many crops other than wheat since antiquity.

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