Cover Crops in Vegetables

(2nd of Two Parts)


By Tim Hammerich, with The Ag Information Network

There can be benefits of incorporating cover crops into vegetable cropping systems. However, it can’t be overlooked that executing a cover crop strategy is not always easy. USDA ARS research horticulturist Eric Brennan says it’s a lot like juggling.

“Growers in this area know that cover crops are helpful. We’ve known this for decades. The challenge is that growing cover crops makes your management more challenging because you’ve got to time things better. And so for example, probably the most common analogy that I use with this is juggling,” said Brennan “So I like to juggle. And if you can think of juggling three balls, that’s kind of like having two crops in a system, you know, those would be two balls and then you add the third ball and that’s the cover crop. It’s far more challenging to manage three different crops.”

And Brennan would know. He has been studying the impacts of cover crops on vegetables for 18 years.

“For the first eight years, we had some systems where we cover cropped every single winter. You’ve really gotta have the timing down correctly for it to work. Over time I got better at it. So a lot of this is practice, learning from others, trying new methods. So I’m optimistic, but I’m also aware that it’s challenging,” said Brennan.

Brennan’s research focuses on lettuce and broccoli specifically.