At Bois d’Arc Farm we believe consumers want good food produced in a manner that fits our farming methods. To achieve this goal, we practice good ethics and sound management practices such as planting cover crops.
Bois d’Arc Farm is located in Perry County in the Black Belt of Alabama, named because of the rich, black fertile soil in the region. But this soil is often overlaid by a layer of chalk, which is nearly impermeable to groundwater. As a result, these black soils tend to dry out and crack during the summer unless we manage them properly.
Some researchers say that we have lost as much as half of the organic matter in the soil over the past 40-50 years. At Bois d’Arc Farm we feel we don’t have to keep losing so much organic matter when we can build it up so much faster than we did even 20 years ago simply by using cover crops.
Cover crops allow us to have something green and growing in our fields year round, providing many benefits. For example, cover crops reduce erosion problems from both wind and water. Our soils can dry out very fast, making them more susceptible to erosion.
Cover crops help control weeds through competition with another plant, allelopathy ( releasing a chemical that interferes with the growth of another plant), or as mulch. Cover crops also increase mycorrhizal fungi activity which improves drought tolerance and especially important for the nutrient uptake of crops.
These fungi also help control weeds. Weed species, like pigweeds, lambs quarters, and mustards, are not colonized by these fungi and do not benefit from them, while most crop species such as corn, soybeans, sorghum, wheat, and alfalfa benefit from these fungi colonies.
Cover crops improve soil health by increasing earthworm activity and improving soil microbiology. They build organic matter in the soil, improve soil tilth and break apart the soil to improve water movement down through the various layers. Cover crops also increase carbon inputs in the soil, help convert highly soluble inorganic nutrients to an organic form with a slower release because the nutrient is mixed with carbon, and provide more cation exchange sites which slow the nutrient release process.
Cover crops are also used as a source of forage for our livestock. They are beneficial because they provide digestible nutrients for the livestock as well as benefitting the soil in our cropping systems. We produce row crops, specialty crops, specialty niche crops, and a research test plot. We rotate cover crops between our cash crops.
We plant cover crops to improve our soil structure but we also use some specifically to benefit the next crop in the rotation. We may use legumes because of their ability to fix nitrogen which can be utilized by subsequent crops grown in future years. These legumes can give our livestock high quality feed while returning some of the nitrogen back into the soil through manure and urine.
In summary, we use cover crops on our farm because they can reverse the unintentional damage from modern farming practices, improve soil quality and performance, and ultimately help us deliver a better product to our customers.