By Clint Thompson
A break in between vegetable production seasons means fallow land for much of South Florida. It doesn’t have to be that way, however.
University of Florida/IFAS continues to advocate the use of cover crops, though it’s not a management tactic practiced by many South Florida producers.
“Those that do it seem to swear by it and continue to do it and have seen improvements,” said Craig Frey, University of Florida/IFAS Hendry County Extension Director.
Florida’s sandy soils are not as high in fertility, to go along with low water and nutrient retention due to low organic content, according to UF/IFAS. Cover crops increase soil fertility by adding organic matter. They retain and harvest any residual nutrients that would otherwise be leached during the offseason.
“By scavenging nutrients that otherwise may be leached, it’s then making it into organic matter which is then potentially available for the subsequent crop,” Frey said.
Cover crops help control weeds through competition for available water and nutrients. They can reduce harmful nematode populations and prevent soil erosion caused by heavy rains or winds.
With as many advantages to cover crop use, why don’t more South Florida growers implement this practice? Frey said a lot of vegetable production occurs on leased land. Most production hops from field to field, so there isn’t a long-term perspective from the landowner’s mindset.
There are multiple cover crops available and compatible for use in South Florida. The summer cover crops include aeschynomene, cowpeas, hairy indigo, sunhemp, velvetbeans, sorghum-sudan and bahiagrass, if it’s rained.