When I planted my first cover crop — cereal rye — in 1978 to control erosion on poorly drained, hilly clay soils, I had no idea what the full ramifications of that decision would be. Since then, cover crops have become the anchor of a diverse crop rotation in our continuous no-till system.
We credit several cover crops, most of them legumes, with amazing increases in organic matter, sharply reduced fertilizer costs, elimination of soil compaction, mellower soils and deeper water infiltration.
Our goal is to keep something of value growing on the soil surface for as many months as possible. The overall result has been better-than-average yields in years of bad weather and superior harvests in favorable growing seasons. Organic matter content has increased from 0.5% to 3%, even on our steeper 18% slopes.