How many of you have thought about your personal health the past few weeks, or have investigated how you can strengthen your immune system against infectious diseases like COVID-19?
I’m not blaming the medical community, but I have yet to hear anything from the government regarding strategic steps we should be taking to build our immune systems. We are being told to practically wash the skin off our hands, self-isolate, and sterilize everything we touch in order to flatten the curve.
All these practices are good, but it’s not enough.
We need to hear more about eating nutritious food loaded with vitamins and minerals so we can naturally protect ourselves and resist COVID-19, or other viruses that will emerge at some point.
And that’s where cover crops come in.
You may be thinking that I’m trying to exploit this current crisis and my bias to the use of cover crops, but indeed there is a connection between the use of cover crops and human health. I’m just wrapping up a book that touches on this topic, so I know the association is applicable.
Even before the coronavirus was a known issue, the end-users of the food we grow were aware that the quality of what they eat can impact their immune systems. Granted, there are factors that contribute to immunity that are outside the things we can control, like heredity and other health issues, but we do indeed have a certain amount of control of what we eat.
Vitamin C, the mother of all vitamins, and minerals like selenium, iodine, magnesium and zinc all help strengthen our immune systems.
By now you are wondering how this relates to planting cover crops.
We know that cover crops benefits soil health. One of the ways they do this is to waken the soil biology that ultimately makes these vitamins and minerals more available for plant uptake, which in turns increases the nutrient density of the foods we eat. I’ve done nutritional tests on winter squash grown on my farm from fields that had a long-term history of the use of cover crops and no-till. The results were higher nutrient levels in all but one of the 13 minerals I tested, and that lone one was sodium, which we get plenty of anyway.
Consumers Want to Know How Their Food is Grown
There are a lot of market forces these days, but no one should ignore that a growing number of people want to know how their food is grown.
For us as farmers, we feel that we are already doing a good job at this, and in many cases we are. The problem is that we haven’t gotten our story or message out to the end-user in how we grow food. And if you really don’t want them to know how you grow their food, maybe there is something you need to change. Large corporations like General Mills, who made the Cheerios you ate this morning, are pumping millions into soil health research. Why? Because they know that the consumer wants to know that their food was grown in such a way that protects the environment, the planet, and that it is nutritious for those who eat it.
The Power of Public Perception
The use of cover crops provides a compelling story to tell. I tell my non-agriculture friends that cover crops help keep nitrates out of their drinking water. They like that! It is a message they can relate to because we as farmers are doing something that can directly impact their health.
What is the Future of Our Input Costs?
No one knows what the price of input costs will be a year from now, but I think we all agree that the cost of products that we use for farming will not be any cheaper. If cover crops are used strategically and over the long-haul, fertilizer, pesticides and other inputs can be reduced. If we intentionally manage the biology — that is free, by the way, and right under our feet — the things that we buy in a bag or a bottle can be reduced. In short, treat your cover crops like your cash crops to get tangible results.
We Need to Become More Independent
“We live in a small world” — a phrase each of us has uttered at some point. Maybe it’s getting too small. The COVID-19 event has caused us as a nation to reconsider how much reliance we have on other nations for our essential needs, especially in times of a crisis.
Our agriculture industry has also become intertwined with other industries and dynamics that we could have never expected — farmers dumping milk while grocery store milk shelves are bare!
And finally, we as farmers have become dependent on so many inputs that it may be tough to survive if our input costs go up, or if the inputs become unavailable. We don’t know yet if this will occur, but we should be prepared for it. Farmers are primed like never before to use cover crops. There are volumes of information at our fingertips and many neighboring farmers willing to give advice on how to use cover crops effectively.