Conservation Cover

Conservation cover is establishing and maintaining permanent perennial vegetative cover to protect soil and water resources on land retired from agricultural production or other lands needing permanent protective cover that will not be used for forage production. Conservation cover is often grown in permanent strips between cropland fields and under trees in orchards.

Conservation cover is applied to reduce soil erosion, improve water and air quality, enhance wildlife habitat, improve soil quality, and for pest management. This practice only applies to lands in need of permanent vegetative cover; it does not apply to any forage or production agriculture planting.
Vegetation planted in a conservation cover practice should be adapted to soil, ecological, and climate conditions. Care should be taken to ensure that weeds have been sufficiently eliminated from the conservation cover site before panting, and that seeding rates are adequate to establish the desired vegetative cover. To help ensure successful establishment of a conservation cover site, use certified seeds, and other vegetative materials from a reliable supplier. Suggested conservation cover plants suitable for your farm, contact the local office of the Cooperative Extension Service or the local USDA NRCS field office. They can provide you with ideas for plant species, planting rates, planting methods, fertilizer and liming rates.
Conservation Cover

When apply conservation cover between crop fields or under orchard canopies choose a plant that:

  • does not grow too tall and shades out the cash crop.
  • does not twine or wrap around trees.
  • grows well under shade.
  • crowds out weeds.
  • can handle light foot traffic from animals or machinery.

Since conservation cover is considered permanent vegetation, it is often used as a means of carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration is the capture and storage of carbon in a plant’s biomass (foliage, branches, trunk, roots, etc.). Through natural photosynthesis, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) becomes stored as carbon in plant biomass and soil. Since conservation cover usually consists of permanent perennial plants the carbon is removed from the atmosphere and is fixed, sequestered, in the plant and soil. The idea of removing a greenhouse gas like CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it in a semi-permanent terrestrial form has garnered a lot of interest from science and industry over the past decades as more solutions of offsetting and remediating greenhouse gasses have become a more pressing issue.

If conditions for conservation cover exist, there are financial incentive programs which may cost-share the expenses of the additional requirements. Implementation of conservation cover can be worked into an EQIP application package and may complement other conservation practices such as 340-cover crops, 601-vegetative barrier, 329-residue management, 590-nutrient management, 330-contour farming for cropland, 331-contour farming for orchards, 311-alley cropping, and 422-hedgerow planting, 427-access control, 370-atmospheric resources quality management, 342-critical area planting, and 382-fence.

In summary, conservation cover is an important conservation and production practice that can be utilized in conservation programs. Conservation cover reduces sediment, nutrient, and pollution loads in run-off from agricultural production. Conservation cover also provides habitat for many different species of wildlife. Careful selection of the proper plant species, best suited for the selected site will provide the greatest benefits, filtering run-off, improving air quality, and increases species diversity. For more information contact your local County Extension Office or your local USDA Service Center.

— Lee Riley

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