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Cornell University

Cover Crop Guide for NY Growers

Dr. Thomas Björkman, Horticulture Section, Cornell AgriTech

Soil Health

The Cornell Soil Health Team is working to provide tools to assess soil health. These assessments let growers identify the improvements in soil management that would have the most impact.

The report from the soil health test provides prescriptions for ways to correct the deficiencies that the test identifies. Several of the prescriptions are to use cover crops. This site is intended to help fill those prescriptions. The following is a list of management goals and what you would look for in a cover crop to address them.

Protect soil from rain or runoff

– Broad leaves to intercept rain
– Robust root system to hold surface soil

Suppress weeds

– Rapidly establishing smother crops

Improve soil aggregate stability

– Active exudation of glues and fungus food from roots
– Root-surface fungi that produce aggregate glues

Reduce surface crusting

– Shallow, fibrous root system

Add active organic matter to soil

– High biomass with mixture of quickly and slowly-decomposing parts

Break hardpan

– Deep roots that swell during growth

Fix nitrogen

– Legumes with high biomass and active fixation in farm fields.

Scavenge soil nitrogen

– Active growth in fall and good nitrogen storage over winter.

Suppress soil diseases and pests

– Support beneficial soil microbes
– Produce suppressive compounds

The Soil Health Manual has information on measuring your soil’s condition. It includes information on the Cornell Soil Health Test sample collection and its interpretation. It also takes advantage of the Cornell Soil Health Team’s new diagnostic tool for determining which aspects of soil health need improvement.