Growers have some decisions to make when it comes to getting the maximum value of cover crop benefits in their orchards. Management practices play a critical role in how effective cover crops can be. In addition, the types of cover crops that are planted also determines the overall benefits that can be provided. Director of Pollination Programs at Project Apis m., Billy Synk said there is a balance to be struck between the benefits for pollinators and the soil health benefits of cover cropping.
“What cover crops do is check a bunch of different boxes all at the same time. It helps break up compacted soil and helps water actually infiltrate down to where it needs to go. It helps increase organic matter which can actually increase the water holding capacity in the soil,” Synk explained. “All these things are happening while these plants are blooming and feeding bees at critical times of the year. Especially before, during, and after almond pollination. So, that extra quantity and diversity of natural pollen and all the different amino acids that’s contained within those really help the bees build up their population.”
A new Best Management Practices guide that was recently released can help growers better understand the value that cover crops can provide. Supported by the Bee+ Scholarship from the Almond Board of California, the Seeds for Bees program can help with cover cropping decisions and free seed. Planting the appropriate mix can also allow growers to fully realize the cover crop benefits they are looking for in their orchards. A brassica mix can help to break up compacted soil. More legume-heavy mixes can help address issues of nitrogen and erosion.
“Then we have a mix that I call the soil builder mix. It’s kind of a combination of the two; some legumes, some brassicas, and a grain to kind of do a little bit of everything,” said Synk. “It’s important to remember you don’t have to pick just one. We have some growers, they put a certain type of mix on immature orchards, and then mature orchards get another one.”
Listen to Synk’s full interview below.