Global climate change

Cover crops may magnify climate warming at local levels

By Brett Anderson, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
1/02/2019, 5:06:43 PM

Cover crops grown in farm fields during the winter appear to be having a warming influence on temperatures in the northern U.S. and southern Canada, according to new research from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)).

A cover crop protecting a soybean field.

A cover crop is a plant that is used primarily to reduce erosion, improve soil conditions, enhance water availability, reduce weeds and help control pests and diseases.

Cover crops are beneficial during wet and dry periods and can help increase crop yields.

Examples of cover crops include clover, vetch, beans, rye, wheat, barley, oats and forage grasses.

According to the study, the cover crops create a darker surface compared to a snow covered field, which leads to a greater absorption of the sun's energy and a local warming effect.

Wintertime warming from cover crops is particularly pronounced in regions where winter snowpack is more variable, such as the U.S. Midwest.

Tall, leafy cover crops can warm the surface in a growing area by as much as 3 deg. C (5.5 deg F.).

“In general, the height tends to matter more than the leafiness, but together they have a strong impact,” said Danica Lombardozzi, a plant ecologist at NCAR and lead author on the paper."The study's results suggest that farmers could reap the full benefits of winter cover crops and reduce the impact on climate by planting shorter and less leafy crops."

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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Global climate change