With cover crops, the hype far outpaces the science

“One thing the Biden administration, agribusiness leaders, soil scientists, and environmentalists all agree on is that farmers across the country should plant cover crops,” writes Gabriel Popkin in FERN’s latest story. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture and food giants such as Land O’Lakes, Corteva, Bayer, and Cargill are paying farmers millions of dollars to sow rye, clover, radishes, or other crops after, or even before, they harvest their corn and soybeans.”

Indeed, cover crops have gained elite status as a way for farmers to fight climate change. “Cover crops, proponents argue, can soak up carbon dioxide, via photosynthesis, when fields are normally bare. When the plants are later killed and their roots break down, some of that carbon can remain in the soil. 

“But a closer look at the growing body of research raises questions about their ability to lower agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.”