On-farm Soil Health Assessment of Cover-cropping in Florida

  •  Jehangir H. Bhadha    
  •  Nan Xu    
  •  Abul Rabbany    
  •  Naba R. Amgain    
  •  Jay Capasso    
  •  Kevin Korus    
  •  Stewart Swanson    


Conventional cropping systems on sandy soils require continuous application of large amounts of external nutrients and irrigation water yet remain vulnerable to loses of these inputs. Within the state of Florida, need exists to provide farmers with economically viable alternatives that harness ecological processes and improve soil health and biodiversity. Cover crops are proving to be vital in the development of soil health. As part of this study we conducted a comprehensive on-farm assessment involving nine collaborative growers (ten farms) across the state; with each individual farm following its unique cover-cropping practice. Our goal was to shadow their practice and determine its effect on soil health indicators such as soil pH, bulk density (BD), maximum water holding capacity (MWHC), organic matter (OM), active carbon, cation exchange capacity, soil protein, Total Kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN), total phosphorus (TP), Mehlich-3 P (M3P) and potassium (M3K). Compared to fallow, soil OM, MWHC, and soil protein showed increases in cover crop fields for most farms, which presented a positive change towards building up soil health. Although soil TKN level was significantly decreased due to cover crops, soil protein level building up over time was the most positive change for soil health. M3K decreased in cover-crop fields, which indicated that supplementary K would be necessary prior to planting subsequent cash crops.

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