Keep an Armor on the Soil: Cover Soil to Protect it

Keeping an armor on the soil with living plants, crop residues or mulches protects the soil in a multitude of ways. The cultural practice of having “clean” farm fields with exposed soil had, in the past, been considered a sign of a good farmer, but that misconception is changing thanks to research that shows that a protective covering is a key element of healthy soil practices. Soil armor keeps the soil cool and moist. Bare soils will evaporate more quickly due to exposure to heat and, in the extreme, can reach 140 degrees killing microorganisms.

An armor on the soil prevents erosion from wind and rain. A soil cover buffers the impact of rain – which on a bare soil can cause compaction ­– and allows rain water to infiltrate into the soil rather than running off. Crop residues and mulches suppress weeds and as they breakdown they recycle nutrients back to the soil.

The leaves of cover crops shield the soil surface, and their living roots cycle nutrients produced by photosynthesis into the soil to sustain the health of soil microbial communities. The Natural Resources Conservation Service claims that healthy soils are covered all the time. 

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