Cultivation/Production, North America

Cover crops in nitrogen’s Circle of Life

A circle of life—and nitrogen—is playing out in farms across the United States. And researchers are trying to get the timing right. Some cover crops, such as hairy vetch or cereal rye, are not grown to be eaten. Instead, they capture nutrients, including nitrogen, from previous crops, the air and the soil. When cover crops decompose, these nutrients are released. Cash crops planted afterwards can use these nutrients to grow and thrive. But cash crops need different amounts of nutrients at different stages of growth. A new study assesses how quickly nutrients are released from two different cover crops. The goal, according to study co-author Rachel Cook, is to time nutrient release from cover crops to better match the nutrient needs of specific cash crops. “It’s like trying to time a meal to come out of the oven exactly when all the hungry dinner guests arrive,” says Cook, currently a researcher at North Carolina State University. More

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