New U of M research looking at the benefits of cover crops for farmers

The University of Manitoba is studying the benefits of cover crops for farmers across the prairies. (Source: Callum Morrison/ U of M)

A new study out of the University of Manitoba is shining a light on the benefits of farmers using cover crops.

Cover crops – such as clovers – are used after cash crops are harvested and can help farmers deal with problems such as soil erosion.

Researchers at the U of M said local information about these crops can be hard to come by and they were interested in gathering information from farmers on what they think.

In 2020, the researchers talked with 281 farmers across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta who have used cover crops, to find out what they liked about the practice.

"A lot of farmers have told us that they found cover cropping to occasionally be quite an isolating experience because they didn't have that support and knowledge, networks built up yet," said Callum Morrison, a graduate student from the Department of Plant Science.

"Through this project we hope to build these networks and really put cover cropping into a prairie context and that farmers can really understand what is going on and what their neighbours are doing."

Dr. Yvonne Lawley, who is an assistant professor at the U of M in the Department of Plant Science, said this is an old practice but it is important for farmers to do.

"Through research we are discovering how important it is to feed, you know, not only ourselves as humans but the whole ecosystem," said Lawley. "One way we are working with farmers to understand how we can build soil health is by providing plants that capture energy from the sun and through their roots bring energy to the soil."

She added this will help the soil be healthier for cash crops which makes a better product and it can also protect the soil from harsh weather such as wind.

Lawley said this research will better help the U of M understand how farmers can be supported to make economic and sustainable decisions for their farms.