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Cover Crops Are Good for the Soil (and the Farmer)


Note correction following the report

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I'm Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Cover crops are an ancient way to help farmers improve their soil, increase their harvests and, these days, save money on chemicals.

Scientists like Aref Abdul-Baki search for new and better cover crops. Mister Abdul-Baki is with the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. He works at the Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.

Mister Abdul-Baki has found some cover crops to resist groundworms that attack the roots of tomatoes.

Sunn hemp, cowpea and velvet bean are good for warm, humid areas. The soil is plowed to plant the cover crops during the summer months. In the fall, the cover crops are turned over in the soil, then the tomatoes are planted.

In states with moderate climates, like Maryland and Virginia, the cover crops are planted in the fall to grow during early spring. Mister Abdul-Baki tells us that good cover crops are hairy vetch and rye.

To avoid soil loss, the seeds are planted without the use of plowing. In May, the cover crops are cut and the remains are left on the surface. The same method can be used for other summer crops like peppers, sweet corn, green beans and some melons.

After the cover crop is cut, the result is a layer of organic material. This will help the new crop grow and suppress unwanted plants. The cover crop provides extra nutrients to the soil. It also keeps the soil from drying out, and helps prevent the loss of soil.

In hot, dry areas, like in Southern California, cover crops help reduce soil temperatures. They also reduce water loss and erosion. Lana vetch is a good cover crop. It is planted in the fall and breaks down without any assistance. It releases its seeds back into the soil.

Mister Abdul-Baki says farmers who use cover crops no longer need to treat their soil with methyl bromide before they plant tomatoes. Methyl bromide kills many kinds of organisms. But Mister Abdul-Baki notes that the poison also damages the environment and is a health danger. The government restricts the use of methyl bromide. And countries have agreed to a treaty to ban it.

Aref Abdul-Baki says farmers who use cover crops produce as many, or more, tomatoes per hectare as compared to no use of cover crops.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. Our reports are online at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Gwen Outen.

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We received the following letter:

I would like to express my appreciation for the report released on 23 May 2005 entitled “Cover Crops Are Good for the Soil (and the Farmer)”. I am the Research Leader for the USDA-ARS Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab in Beltsville, Maryland. Dr. Aref Abdul-Baki is a member of our laboratory and has been conducting a world-renowned research program on cover crops for many years. We are pleased to see this research reported to a worldwide audience whenever possible.

I would like to suggest changes to two sentences in the ninth paragraph that would improve the accuracy of this report. The sentence “Mister Abdul-Baki says farmers who use cover crops no longer need to treat their soil with methyl bromide before they plant tomatoes” may not be true under many conditions in subtropical climates where parasitic nematodes and fungal pathogens are prevalent; this system has not been adequately tested under these conditions. It would be better to say “Mister Abdul-Baki says farmers who use cover crops may not need methyl bromide before they plant tomatoes if they have low levels of nematodes and pathogens, but the cover crop system needs further testing under high disease pressure.”

In addition, the sentence “But Mister Abdul-Baki notes that the poison also damages the environment and is a health danger” does not represent his opinion. It would be more accurate to delete that sentence and merge the following two sentences to read, "Mister Abdul-Baki notes that world governments have agreed to a treaty to ban methyl bromide because it can contribute to global climate change."

I thank you for reporting on the important research that our lab has performed and that you will continue to highlight ARS research when the opportunity arises.

JOHN R. TEASDALE
Beltsville, Maryland
May 25, 2005

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