Legume crops are plants that release seeds in pods and are members of the Fabaceae family. They are produced for human consumption, animal feed, and soil enhancement. Legumes pair up with beneficial microorganisms for fixing nitrogen from the air and storing it within their roots. As a result, they are useful for enriching the soil and decreasing the demand for artificial fertilisers. Legumes are very high in protein and other nutrients for both humans and animals.
One method of growing legume crops is to utilise them as cover crops. Cover crops are plants which farmers cultivate between primary crops or after harvest to protect and improve the soil. Cover crops can help to minimise soil erosion, weeds, enhance soil structure, increase organic matter in the soil, and offer home for beneficial insects and animals. By interrupting insect and disease life cycles and drawing natural enemies, cover crops can also help to minimise pests and illnesses in primary crops.
Alfalfa, red clover, fava, vetch, and cowpeas are examples of legume cover crops. You can plant them alone or in combination with other cover crops like grasses or grains. Legume cover crops can help regardless of the growing season, when intercropped with the main crops. When legume cover crops go through harvest, the soil absorbs the nutrients, either as green manure or they can also serve as mulch. This can cause nitrogen and other nutrients to be released into the soil, benefiting the following crop.
In this blog, we will explore how legume cover crops can improve soil fertility and health. We shall check out how to choose the best legume cover crop for your situation as well. So stay tuned till the end.
Uses of Legume Crops
Legume crops are a group of plants that produce seeds in pods and can fix nitrogen from air with the help of bacteria in their roots. Oostly they’re useful as human food, animal feed, and also to improve the soil. Beans, soybeans, chickpeas, peanuts, lentils, are some examples of legume crops. Legumes can be used as cover crops to provide multiple benefits for agriculture sustainability. Some of the benefits of legume cover crops are:
Improving soil fertility and health
Legume cover crops may provide nitrogen and organic matter to the soil, minimising the demand for synthetic fertilisers. They also have the potential to increase soil structure, water retention, and nutrient cycling. Depending on the species and management, legume cover crops can generate up to 200 kg N ha 1 year 1.
Preventing soil erosion and water runoff
Legume cover crops can protect the soil from wind erosion and water erosion by covering the soil surface and reducing the impact of raindrops. They can also reduce water runoff and increase water infiltration by creating pores and channels in the soil. Legume cover crops can reduce soil erosion by 50–90% compared with bare soil.
Legume cover crops can attract beneficial insects, microbes, and animals that enhance the ecosystem services and functions. They can also provide pollen and nectar for pollinators and natural enemies of pests. Legume cover crops can increase biodiversity by 30–50% compared with monoculture systems.
Increasing yield and profitability
Legume cover crops can increase the yield and quality of the following crops by providing nitrogen and improving soil conditions. They may also save money on inputs like fertiliser, insecticides, and irrigation. When compared to no cover crop systems, leguminous cover crops can enhance crop output by 10-20% and net returns by 5-15%. You can further improve your field’s yield by investing in a Sonalika Tractor.
How Do Legume Crops Work?
Planting legume cover crops causes their roots to develop and break up the compact top layer of soil, allowing air and water to pass through. These plants produce organic compounds that feed beneficial microorganisms in the soil, assisting in the breakdown of organic matter into nutrients. Legumes cover crops absorb nutrients in the soil, preventing them from being washed away by running water.
At the end of their growing phase, legume cover crops are tilled, mowed or destroyed with herbicides and left to breakdown into the soil. This enhances the nutrients in the top layer of soil and improves the soil’s water retention, structure, and nutrient availability for income crops.
Winter annuals such as crimson clover, hairy vetch, field peas and subterranean clover; perennials such as red clover and white clover; biennials such as sweetclover; and summer annuals are all examples of legume cover crops. Legume cover crops are utilised to fix atmospheric nitrogen for future crop usage.
Challenges to Legume Crops
There are several challenges to legume cover cropping. One challenge is the cost and management of these crops. Seeding and managing legume cover crops can be expensive and requires all the necessary steps of agricultural cultivation without resulting in a harvest.
One more challenge is the availability of time and logistics. The season of cover cropping demands proper care and takes up a significant amount of a farmer’s time. Avoiding conflicts with cash crops can also be a challenge for those with tight time constraints between cash crops.
One more challenge that we have to be aware of while legume cropping is the weather and climate constraints. They can also affect the growth and development of legume cover crops. Some extreme weather conditions like droughts, floods, and extreme temperatures in summer and winter seasons surely stand a chance of affecting the legume crops.
In conclusion, this blog has highlighted the benefits of legume cover cropping and the importance of choosing the right cover crop for your farming system. As acknowledged experts, we encourage farmers to consider incorporating legume cover crops into their farming practices. These crops can significantly reduce dependence on artificial fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, the right tractor might help preserve the fertility of your farmland as well, so consider investing in a Mahindra 585.