Cover crops are crops grown for some other purpose other than harvestable yield. Cover crops are included in farming operations to improve soil physical, chemical and biological properties, supply nitrogen, interfere with pest life cycles and attract beneficial insects.
While not all of these benefits are realized at each application, producers can select cover crops that will satisfy multiple objectives at once. Producers should consider potential drawbacks before deciding to include a cover crop.
In some instances, the cover crop can require additional labor and expense, delay crop planting, or serve as an alternate host to crop insects or diseases.
A cover crop should:
- satisfy the producer’s main objective
- be easy to establish with minimal to no inputs
- be managed with equipment and labor resources at hand
- not compete with the vegetable crop and
- perform well under various environmental conditions.
Prioritizing objectives for cover crops necessitates an understanding of when and under what conditions benefits can occur. Some benefits occur during cover crop growth, while other benefits occur after cover crop termination. Generally, benefits are only fully realized with a robust stand of cover crop. A wide variety of cover crop species and management options are available to fit a farm operation.
A number of warm and cool-season forages have been developed and tested for Florida’s climate, and there are many excellent forages that could be used as cover crops in a vegetable crop rotation.