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The Function and Benefits of Cover Crops

The function and benefits of cover crops on your farm is the topic on this week’s Tillage Edge podcast and Michael Hennessy was joined by Richie Hackett, Teagasc Oak Park, to find out more.

Richie explained that these crops can catch nutrients such as nitrate (and slow the overland flow of soil thus reducing phosphorus runoff), can protect or enhance the soil, can contribute nutrients to the next year’s crop and can also provide forage for animals. 

The amount of organic matter added by a cover crop will depend on how much growth the cover crop made but in general, the amount of organic matter added by cover crops will be relatively modest. 

However, after ten years of cover crops at Oak Park, there was little difference between that and where the ground was kept bare over the winter. 

Richie told the Tillage Edge that cover crop seed costs can also vary a lot depending on what is being sown.  There will also be mixes with many more than two species but there is very little evidence to support the use of mixes with many species. 

Richie’s advice is to choose a species or simple species mix that will achieve your objectives without causing rotational problems with the lowest cost.  Given that the economic benefits of cover crops are usually fairly modest at best, therefore the main objective should be to keep costs as low as possible.

For more episodes and information from the Tillage Edge podcast go to www.teagasc.ie/crops/crops/the-tillage-edge-podcast/

The Tillage Edge is a co-production with LastCastMedia.