(Under)cover crops

Thanks to farmer, friend, and blog reader Vic for sending us a link to this Mother Jones story on cover crops. Here’s just a taste of the great info you’ll find:

The [2012 Iowa State University] study looked at fields under three kinds of rotations over nine years: the common two-year corn-soy rotation, a three-year rotation that adds oats with a nitrogen-fixing cover crop, and a four-year rotation that adds hay (alfalfa) to the mix. The result: The more diverse systems reduced the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizer—an energy-intensive, water-polluting substance—by a stunning 86 percent, while maintaining yields.

Let me get this straight. According to the study, cover crops are directly responsible for 86% less fertilizer, 200x less freshwater toxicity, and 48-51% less energy usage per acre per year? Kindly point me to the nearest vat of nitrogen-fixing legume seed. Peanut butter, anyone?

Legumes are great, but this may be the best cover ever.

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  • I liked this quote from the Mother Jones story:

    “They’ve [farmers have] done so by seeing their soil, and not the next crop they squeeze out of it, as their key investment. And that’s the exact opposite of the approach encouraged by federal farm policy, which pushes farmers to plant as much as possible and then subsidizes crop insurance against losses—giving them no incentive to build organic matter in soil.”

    Living in the Midwest, I’m surrounded by mono-crop fields that are planted with either corn or soy beans year after year. The ground is completely sterile. You won’t find any worms in it. All nutrients have been sucked out and the crops rely on regular injections of fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. After fields are harvested, many of the farmers plow over them to turn the corn stobs into the soil and end up losing even more soil to the winds. If corn brings in more cash, they’ll plant it over and over instead of rotating with soy. Most of the crops grown near me are genetically altered (Roundup Ready) and they are sold for fuel or animal feed (another reason I don’t eat meat).

    I recommend reading Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works by Atina Diffley. It is a wonderful and inspiring book that explains so much about how organic farming works. I wish more people would take an interest in where their food comes from. There’s a lot of knowledge about growing food that’s not being passed down anymore.

    I enjoyed the They Might Be Giants video you included in your post; our family band also does a cover of Tubthumping!

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