Across Regions, Cultivation/Production, North America, Research, Sustainability

Researchers study potential of “nurse crops” to combat soil erosion

A spring cover crop planted at potato planting time – called a nurse crop – offers a way to reduce soil erosion during the weeks between potato planting and hilling. But what is the optimal way to grow a “nurse crop” to benefit the soil, the potato crop, and the grower’s bottom line? Researchers and growers in New Brunswick in Canada and Maine in the US are working on answering that question. “The best part of the soil is lost when it erodes – you lose your organic matter, your fines [clay particles] and your productive A horizon,” explains John Jemison, an extension professor of soil and water quality at the University of Maine.

Serious erosion losses are contributing to declining soil health, which is associated with stagnant or decreasing potato yields in the region. A so-called nurse crop is one tool for reducing erosion in potato fields. Generally, the term “nurse crop” refers to a cover crop seeded when another crop is planted to offer some protective benefit, such as reducing the force of wind or rain on delicate seedlings. In potato systems, it means a crop planted right around potato planting that emerges quickly to cover the soil and reduce spring soil erosion. More

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