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Cover Crops Improve Biological Health of Hot and Semiarid Soils

A study led by a New Mexico State University researcher showed that cover crops can increase the biological health of soils on hot and dry semiarid lands. The five-year study was a collaboration between weed scientists, agronomists, agri-economists, and soil scientists from the NMSU Agricultural Experiment Station centers, USDA Agricultural Research Service, and Colorado State University. The cover crop treatments tested were combinations of grasses, legumes, and brassicas. By the third and fourth years of the study, cover crops increased the biological health of soils. Legumes and their mixture with other cover crops were the most effective in improving soil biology, while oats and their mixtures were most effective in increasing organic matter. Study leader Rajan Ghimire warns, however, that cover crops on dryland require careful planning for species selection and timing, in order not to use so much moisture that the yield of the following crop is reduced.