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Clover cover crops in vegetable farming - A mixed blessing

Clover cover crops in vegetable farming - A mixed blessing

By Scout Nelson

In South Dakota, vegetable farmers are exploring innovative approaches to manage weeds, improve soil health, and reduce the reliance on single-use plastics. The incorporation of cover crops, specifically clover varieties, has emerged as a promising strategy to address these challenges.

A recent study conducted in 2022 and 2023 by researchers at South Dakota State University (SDSU) delved into the effects of clover cover crops on vegetable production.

The research focused on three types of clover—Dynamite (red), Domino (white), and Aberlasting (white x kura)—compared against a control of bare ground.

The study also examined four row management techniques ranging from tilled to no-till methods, both with and without fabric. Broccoli and delicata squash were the cash crops under investigation, grown at different SDSU research farms.

Key Findings:

Clover Growth: Clover biomass was assessed throughout the growing seasons, revealing varying impacts on the vegetable crops. In 2022, clover showed resilience in squash fields but not in broccoli areas, where it thrived and suppressed weeds effectively.

Yield Impact: The presence of clover, particularly in no-till plots, led to yield reductions for both broccoli and squash. This was attributed to competition from weeds and the clover itself.

Marketability: Weather challenges in 2023 affected the marketability of harvested vegetables, with a significant portion of broccoli and squash not meeting USDA standards due to size and quality issues.

The study underscores the complexity of integrating living mulches like clover into vegetable farming systems. While clovers can offer soil health benefits and aid in weed suppression, their impact on vegetable yields varies depending on crop type and management practices.

Farmers must carefully consider these factors, alongside weather and pest pressures, when incorporating clover cover crops into their farming strategies.

This research provides valuable insights for Midwest vegetable farmers interested in sustainable practices that balance soil health improvements with crop production needs.

As the agricultural community continues to seek environmentally friendly solutions, studies like these play a crucial role in guiding informed decisions in the field.

Photo Credit-gettyimages-mvburling

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Categories: South Dakota, Crops, Fruits and Vegetables

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