It is autumn in South Africa, but judging by the frost this morning, winter is here. The soya bean harvest was good this year thanks to some good late rains. Those late rains are also going to help my cover crop mix that I drilled behind the soya combine.
I like to make up a cover crop mix consisting of both grass and broad leaf species. The different plants interact with the soil micro-biology in different ways.
Each plant species exudes different sugars into the soil which in turn feeds a different spectrum of fungi and bacteria. The greater the variety of plants, the greater the variety of micro-organisms, which leads to a healthier soil. One can say that they provide the soil with an essential service and that the key to a good cover crop mix is to have no “social distancing” between individual plants.
Increased organic matter in the soil gives it more structure and allows the soil to breath freely. A healthy soil will never need to be placed on a ventilator (in other words tilled, where air is forced into it).
The organic matter also acts like a sponge, holding on to excess moisture in times of plenty and slowly releasing it to the soil and the crop, and dare I say it, flattening the water curve.
The cover crop above the soil provides a layer of organic material which protects the surface from the sun, wind and rain. allowing water to infiltrate the soil profile. One could call it the soil’s PPE.
In South Africa, we are currently phasing out of lockdown. The economy is in tatters, which has placed a lot of pressure on our currency. The weak rand has had a positive effect on the price of our commodities, with maize and soya both up nicely. Unfortunately, the price of machinery, fertiliser and other inputs will also rise.
The events of the past few weeks have been challenging, and who knows what the next few years will hold? As farmers we must keep doing what we do best, as efficiently and profitably as we can.