I’ve seen pictures on your website of “cover crops.” What’s a cover crop?

Each week, we will answer a question from our readers regarding our operations and community outreach in the State of Hawaii. Submit your question by visiting the contact page. Thanks for reading. Mahalo!

Q: I’ve seen pictures on your website of “cover crops.” What’s a cover crop?

That’s a great question. Monsanto uses a variety of methods to manage pests and keep our fields healthy and sustainable. One of those tools is cover crops.

Cover crops are plants that we grow to suppress weeds and diseases, promote soil fertility, and maintain a healthy ecosystem on our farms. For example, after we’ve grown and harvested a field of corn, we may plant a cover crop – such as buckwheat, sunflowers, cowpeas or a combination of plants – on that field before rotating back to corn again. We grow a variety of cover crops to provide as much biodiversity as possible.

Farmers have used cover crops for many years, with good reason:

  • Top soil is one of our communities’ most precious natural resources. Cover crops help to protect against soil loss by keeping the dirt in place and reducing erosion.
  • Through their root systems, cover crops promote a healthy ecosystem by improving the movement of air and water in the soil.
  • When their foliage is tilled into the ground, cover crops function as “green manure,” providing valuable nutrients and organic matter to the soil.
  • Cover crops can suppress the growth of weeds which in turn reduces the need to control weeds in the farmer’s crop of choice.
  • Certain cover crops can attract beneficial ‘bugs’ that feed on the unwanted insects that damage farm crops, which helps keep pest populations under control.

At Monsanto, we use cover crops at all of our farms in Hawaii, as rotational crops and green manure, and as refuges for beneficial bugs.

As wonderful as cover crops are, however, they’re not a cure-all for a farmer’s pest challenges. That is why many farmers, including Monsanto, use a comprehensive toolbox – also known as an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system – to protect their crops and produce more for a growing world population.