By Clint Thompson
Alabama farmers who utilized cover crops this winter protected their soil during times of excessive rainfall, according to Audrey Gamble, an assistant professor and Extension specialist at Auburn University.
“I think it’s very obvious to see that we’ve had record rainfalls across the state, and that in fields where we had cover crops, it helped with preventing erosion and run-off,” Gamble said. “I’ve seen some beautiful cover crops across the state; clovers and small grains that have an excellent stand and a lot of growth. With this warmer weather, it’s going to keep picking up and add some biomass to the cover crop.”
According to the NOAA National Center for Environmental Information, Alabama experienced its wettest winter on record.
“There have been days where there’s been very high amounts of rainfall within a 24-hour period that leaves the soil very susceptible to erosion and run-off. Anything that we can do to keep that water in the ground and keep the soil in place, that’s a good thing,” Gamble said.
Cover crop acreage continues to increase in Alabama. According to Gamble, in a 2017 census, there was a reported 230,000 acres of cover crops throughout the state. That was an increase from 199,000 in 2012.
“I do think since the last census it has continued to go up. I do know that acres in cover crops is growing throughout the state. You talk to producers and it seems like more and more are growing cover crops and you see it more and more,” Gamble said. “I think we have had some good cover crops in the state. Rye seems to be one that has not done as well this winter and we’re trying to figure out why; if it’s more insect related or if it’s because of the moisture. But some of our other small grains have been doing very well.”
Gamble continues to advocate for cover crop usage. She presents research that her graduate students have conducted on how cover crops impact the soil and its health benefits.
“I think one of the major benefits that we see in the state is moisture retention. When we have a thick mat of residue, that mat of residue helps to store soil moisture and prevent evaporation during our short-term droughts in the summer,” Gamble said. “We see research plots where we have yield benefits; for example, up to about 400 pounds of lint per acre in cotton. Producers are seeing these benefits, too. I think that’s one of the key ways we can benefit. There’s a lot of different benefits to planting cover crops when it comes to soil and fertility of the soil and health of the soil.”