A pillar of the climate-smart agriculture movement is on shaky ground
Cover crops have gained elite status as a way for farmers to fight climate change. But a closer look at the growing body of research raises questions about their ability to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s one thing the Biden administration, agribusiness leaders, soil scientists and environmentalists all agree on: farmers across the country should plant cover crops. 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.
These off-season plantings have long been used to keep soil and nutrients in place and prevent runoff that fouls waterways. But that’s not why they’ve become a linchpin of the red-hot climate-smart and regenerative agriculture movements. With support from influential international bodies like the IPCC and leaders like former vice president Al Gore and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, cover crops are being asked to do something new and high-stakes: draw atmospheric carbon into the soil to help fight climate change.