Cover crops promote and preserve soil fertility in winter wheat crops

A study that was published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment found that utilizing cover crops could help alleviate the disadvantages of a reduced soil tillage. Soil tillage refers to the cultivation of the soil using harrow, plow, or other farm implements to make the field ready for crop production.

  • Research showed that reducing soil tillage while at the same time utilizing cover crops increased soil fertility.
  • Cover crops also do away with the disadvantages of reduced soil tillage, which are yield reductions and weed management problems.
  • The researchers conducted a three-year experiment in Switzerland wherein they set up eight cover crop treatments, which were cultivated for a short two-month period between two winter wheats.
  • The researchers said that high cover crop biomass production enabled the suppression of weed biomass in all tillage treatments, unlike the no cover crop control.
  • The authors found that the highest wheat yield can be obtained in minimum tillage with field pea as cover crop, as compared with the plough treatment.
  • Meanwhile, in the no till treatment, wheat yield was significantly low, except in the field pea treatments, where wheat yield was the same to that of the yield in the plough and minimum tillage treatments.
  • These differences in biomass production means different nutrient inputs and soil nutrition concentration.
  • Another major discovery made by the researchers is that crop cultivation could increase soil organic carbon and total nitrogen, especially in reduced tillage treatments.
  • As such, the presence of a well-developed cover crop, even for just two months, can support wheat yield, even in a no till treatment.

The authors have concluded that proper use and management of cover crops, coupled with tillage reduction, can support yield and boost soil fertility in the long term.

Journal reference

Lucie Buchi, Marina Wendling, Camille Amosé, Magdalena Necpalova, Raphael Charles. IMPORTANCE OF COVER CROPS IN ALLEVIATING NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF REDUCED SOIL TILLAGE AND PROMOTING SOIL FERTILITY IN A WINTER WHEAT CROPPING SYSTEM. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 2018. 256 DOI:


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