Cover crops are essential to growing organically and maintaining fertile soil, and factors like species selection and timely planting are important for vegetables to thrive.
Few researchers know as much about soil sciences and cover crops as UGA’s Julia Gaskin. She is an expert in soil quality and sustainable agriculture and serves as the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Model State Co-Coordinator for Georgia. She works to identify the needs for sustainable agriculture in the Georgia and develop the programming to serve those needs.
Gaskin will be presenting a workshop in Using Cover Crops in Vegetable Production at the 18th Annual Georgia Organics Conference, Recipe for Change: Better Farms, Better Flavors, which will be held on Feb. 20-21, 2015, at the Classic Center in Athens, Ga. We spoke with Julia about the increasing popularity of cover crops and their use for increasing soil health.
In a nutshell, what does cover cropping mean? Cover cropping is growing a crop for its ecologically benefits rather than cash. The ecological benefits are things like increasing soil health, decreasing erosion, or providing habitat for beneficial insects or pollinators.
What would you say is the main advantage of cover cropping?
Improving soil health.
It seems like there’s a lot more interest in cover cropping these days. Why do you think that is?
Yes, there is a lot of “buzz” about cover cropping and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service is really promoting cover cropping right now as part of their emphasis on soil health.
Cover cropping is mostly associated with sustainable agricultural methods. Do you know of any other sustainable ag methods that could catch outside the sustainable and organic ag communities?
There are a number of things, actually, crop rotation to reduce pest pressure, scouting for insect and disease pest and only using pesticides (either organic or synthetic) when these are needed, and reducing tillage. This last is difficult for organic growers that use tillage as their primary weed control strategy but some growers are starting to think about this and reduce tillage when possible.
Lastly, you’ve been to many Georgia Organics Annual Conferences. What are you looking forward to the most?
Seeing people and getting a chance to visit with them about their farm and what they are doing. I always learn a lot from farmers.