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When Cover Crops Take Over

Cover crops are the solution to many of your farm problems, from soil erosion over the winter to major weed problems in the following spring. Not only are they an organic way of managing your farm, but they can also boost profits by either improving field conditions for the following crops or being harvested for small profit by itself.

Farmers across the world make use of cover crops. With a well-thought out, long term plan, they can really do wonders for your farm. Some popular cover crops include wheat, oats and other harvestable grasses, while other farms look towards arugula, peas and forage vegetables to bring life to otherwise vacant fields.

However make no mistake; cover crops need careful management and planning to ensure that you reap the benefits without falling victim to a cover crop nightmare. We take a look at what could go wrong with 3 popular cover crops you might be considering.

White Clover

If you’re looking for long term cover for your fields, this is the cover crop you’re likely to pick. Once you’ve got it well established, this cover crop can stay for years, protecting your fields from erosion and slowly fixing nitrogen into the soil. There is one large downside though: you’ll need to wait around 2 years or so once the white clover is removed before you can plant any vegetable legumes or risk developing root rot. With a good cover crop rotation you could fill that gap with another, short term cover crop or plant a non-vegetable legume instead. Without planning ahead, you could really be left with a 2 year dry period that’s disastrous for your farm.


Rye is a popular cover crop simply because it can last over winter, protecting soil from erosion and preventing weeds in the early spring. It’s clear to see why this is so popular in northerly farms with colder climates. Unfortunately, this can become a nightmare crop if you’re not on the ball when spring comes around. As soon as the kinder, spring weather arrives, rye can grow like crazy. Without careful management it will take over your field and become a difficult crop to remove.

Of course, a good herbicide will take care of that, but then you’ll need to leave your field bare until the half-life expires. This gap between cover crop and cash crop could be a chance for weeds to creep in, however without this waiting gap you risk suppression of certain vegetables and crops that you plant in the field next.

Hairy Vetch

This is undoubtedly one of the best nitrogen fixing crops around. Still, you’ll want to be super careful when it comes to May time. May madness is a good description of what takes place at this time of year. The cover crop goes into overtime with nitrogen fixation… but it also starts to really grow and can take over your fields. Whatever you do, don’t let hairy vetch go to seed or you’ll have a real nightmare getting rid of it in time for the next season.

As a responsible farmer you should realise that this is no laughing matter. They might not be your money making, all important summer crops, but they require just as much attention to work in your favour. Planning cover crops thoroughly as part of your crop rotation plan and farm management goals is the key to success.

When planning out your crop rotation and researching what cover crops will be right for you, try using a timeline to easily see what will be happening to your fields and when. Consider the long term implications of your cover crops and run forecasts to see how your farm could benefit or suffer as a result, whether they’re growing for 2 months or 2 years



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