Cover Crops: Types, Benefits From Farming Practice, & Tips To Use



The term cover crop is widely used in West Africa to describe the crops which are established with the objective of either protecting the surface soil from being washed away or eroded, or preventing the growth of weeds, particularly when sown between rows of plantation crops.

They are often used to occupy land which is lying fallow before being prepared for the next crop. Many cover crops are legumes, but some grasses can also be included in this category. Many plants used as cover crops are annuals or short lived perennials and almost all are established from seeds sown broadcast, generally at the beginning of the wet season.

Since many cover crops are legumes, they contribute to the fertility of the soil by replenishing it with nitrogenous compounds, particularly if the whole plant is hoed or ploughed into the soil after it has completed its growth period.
Some legumes used as cover crops also produce edible seeds which can be used as food crops, livestock can also be fed on the leaves of most legumes used as cover crops; this is an important advantage when a farmer also has livestock, since leguminous Leaves are nutritious, being high in protein.

For this reason, many legumes used as cover crops are also included with grasses in mixed leys for livestock grazing.

Many of the annual cover crops do not have extensive root systems and they therefore grow well soils which have a relatively fertile topsoil. However when used mainly for erosion control, they may be sown on soils which have been partially eroded or exhausted from previous overcropping. In these Conditions, cover crops which will survive in relatively infertile soils and which also have some resistance to drought conditions should be selected.

For effective erosion control, rapidly growing species which produce a fairly large leaf area but which also  have a vigorous root system are most suitable, since their main function is to cover the soil rapidly at the beginning of the wet season, protecting the surface from the impact of heavy rainfall. Examples of cover crops include to pigeon pea, Pueraria spp and Tephrosic.

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