Fred Yoder in Ohio plants rye and winter peas he never harvests. Larkin Martin in Alabama plants radishes she’ll never eat. A.G. Kawamura in California plants barley that rots in the fields.

Each is part of a small but growing movement to bring back an ancient agricultural practice called cover cropping that was once used to rejuvenate soil but now also likely comes with the added benefits of mitigating climate change and protecting against its ravages.

It’s increasingly getting a push from Department of Agriculture programs and even companies that buy commodities. But mostly, farmers say it saves them money and protects their land.

“Our soils keep getting better and better. You take a shovel out and dig deep down and you see the earthworms and the absence of a hardpan. That soil is just mellow all the way through,” said Yoder, a fourth-generation family farmer in Plain City, Ohio.

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For him, planting rye in his fields after he has harvested his cash crops of corn and soybeans is no altruistic effort. It’s about economics and making his farm profitable.

“My biggest driver is trying to save money,” he said. “I’ve cut our fertilizer use by 20%, we’re skipping a herbicide application, and my fields hold more water.”

Cover cropping is no panacea to the many struggles farmers face as they operate within the razor-thin margins of agriculture. It can be costly – as much as $35 an acre – and takes several years to make a significant difference. It also requires new timing and sometimes new equipment and can increase pest infestations.

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Ancient farming practice makes a comeback as climate change puts pressure on crops
Thursday, December 29, 2022  | Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY

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