Choosing cover crops for arable crop rotations


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Growing cover crops in organic arable crop rotations provides many agronomical benefits. Cover crops improve soil fertility and N self-sufficiency, limit nitrate leaching and soil erosion and/or break weed, pest or disease cycles. Nevertheless, choosing appropriate cover crops can be a challenging task.
A French working group initiated by ITAB developed a decision tree for selecting adequate cover crops in arable crop rotations. The decision tree is complemented by technical guides that provide information on cover crop management and appropriate cover crops, depending on specific constraints and objectives.
The tools aim at highlighting the main technical challenges as well as the ways and means of reflection, which can improve the understanding and the implementation of direct sowing into vegetal cover in organic agriculture. Practical recommendation First step: Determining the constraints Considering constraints with regard to suitability of cover crops helps to narrow the number of potential plant species. A first selection refers to the main crops, the intercropping period, dates of sowing and the soil type. Second step: Ranging objectives In a second step, applicable objectives are selected from a proposed list. The species that are best suited to meet the objectives are selected. Third step: Adapting cover crop management In a third step, the methods of sowing and crop termination are taken into account. If the selected species with the best characteristics do not match the available workforce and machinery, species selection is redefined. Fourth step: Final choice The fourth step refers to the selection of a single species or a combination of different species. Seed costs and seed availability on the market or the farm finalize cover crop selection
Soil quality and fertility, Nutrient management, Pest and disease control, Weed management
English language

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