More and more growers are becoming interested in cover crops and no-till and the soil health benefits they can provide. A 4-year study conducted by South Dakota State University (SDSU) and USDA-Agricultural Research Service reiterates just that fact.

The study found leaving crop residue in the field and adding covers can positively impact soil health parameters such as soil organic carbon, bulk density, penetration resistance and soil water infiltration.

Three years of data suggest that crop residue and cover crops have a positive impact on soil hydrological properties and soil health. Some interesting findings from the study:

Soil organic carbon and total nitrogen in the top 2 inches of fields with crop residue was 22% and 17% higher, respectively, than the fields that did not have crop residue.

Fields with crop residue saw their soil penetration resistance reduced by 24% at 0-2 inch soil depth and 27% at 2-6 inch soil depth. Soil bulk density was significantly lower in fields with both crop residue and covers.

Water retention capacity was significantly higher in fields with crop residue and cover crops. Fields with and without crop residue and cover crops showed drastic differences. Depending on the year, observed water infiltration rates were 22.5-80% higher in fields that were covered.

This data reinforces what growers already know: cover crops improve soil health. Adding crop residue to the mix only seems to add to the synergy of covers in enhancing the health of the soil.

When talking with farmers, I have heard many stories of how much better the soil can saturate with water when the soil is healthy. Soil was designed to soak up water—and then put that water back into the crops being grown in that soil.

What about your farm? Have you seen significant changes in soil health thanks to cover crops?