A cover crop is a crop grown to benefit the soil and other crops in the rotation and is usually not intended for harvest. The term cover crop is really a catchall phrase for numerous uses ranging from soil conservation, nutrient retention and environmental protection, improving soil quality and reducing use of purchased inputs. As such, a cover crop is usually planted to provide soil cover during otherwise idle intervals, or fallow periods, in a given crop rotation – that is, between harvest and planting of commodity or feed crops. In some cases, “living covers” may be inter-planted to grow with the commodity crop.
Cover crops are widely recognized as an integral component of organic production systems but also have great potential in conventional agriculture where several cover crops systems have been successfully implemented by producers. The right cover crop can provide multiple benefits while other uses and benefits are mutually exclusive. For example, a green manure crop grown to provide nitrogen (N) will not increase soil organic matter because it’s biomass must rapidly decompose to release N to the following crop.