Skip to main content

Back to the Future


August 29, 2013 – Since growing green manure makes such great sense, I finally decided to incorporate it into my permaculture approach to growing veggies.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know that hairy vetch – my green manure of choice – doesn’t fix nitrogen in the soil until spring.  I’ll be piling leaves and pine straw on top of the hairy vetch in November, so this time around I’ll only gain the organic vegetative matter, moisture retaining capacity, and soil aerating qualities of the vetch.  Still, I look forward to the day when I can allow the vetch to grow to full maturity.

The reason for that is that cover crops, i.e. green manure, fix enough nitrogen to fertilize one year’s entire crop of even a heavy feeder like corn.  In fact, last year the average cover-cropping corn farmer in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas enjoyed an average yield of 122 bushels per acre, despite the drought.  Those not employing a cover crop grew only 106 bushels per acre, on average.  That’s according to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) latest report, Soil Matters: How the Federal Crop Insurance Program Should Be Reformed. 

Because the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) cost taxpayers  over $17 billion last year, the NRDC is coming down hard on the side of resilient, sustainable farming methods.  These include no-till farming, cover cropping, and water conservation.  Just as those who employ conventional farming methods are now being compensated for their losses through the FCIP, the NRDC maintains that it is those who control losses by means of alternative farming methods who ought to be compensated.  It makes sense, just like cover crops do: reward those who do it right, not those who do it wrong.

Here’s a list of some of the plants that not only increase organic matter and prevent erosion, but fix nitrogen as well: alfalfa, cowpeas, mung beans, red clover, and sunn hemp.  Gabe Brown, a farmer in the Great Plains, insists that cover cropping has increased his corn yields and decreased his costs.  By combining cover cropping with no-till farming, Brown avoids synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.  This allows him to make money even when the price of corn falls.  How?  “ … I’m focused on regenerating the soil resource,” says Brown.

In their report, the NRDC recommends that FCIP start a pilot program that reduces premium rates for farmers who utilize cover cropping and no-till farming.  (These methods sound kind of old-fashioned, don’t they?)  They plan to take their proposal to the USDA.  By encouraging soil building in “down to earth” (sorry) ways, the FCIP can guide farmers in the direction of lowering their costs and improving their yields.  Fewer synthetic chemicals being applied to crops means fewer dead zones in our oceans, and fewer sick kids – and animals.

Sounds like an example of Back to the Future, if you ask me.


With thanks to and



Popular posts from this blog

Scott Pruitt is a Bad Man

March 13, 2017 - Raise your hand if winter weather where you live has been abnormal. Here in the Pacific Northwest we have had record-setting amounts of rain. 2017 has been one of the fastest starting years on record in terms of the tornado count, which currently stands at 301 confirmed tornadoes. There is an historic blizzard taking place in the northeastern US as I write.

When you see words like "record setting" and "historic," think climate change. Otherwise, there is no change; events fall within an average range, established over decades or centuries. The events and patterns just described fall outside that range; they are therefore symptomatic of climate change. Every passing year gets warmer - and worse, by which I mean the damage done by storms measured in dollars, and the number of injuries or deaths caused by storms.

The warmer temperatures occur at night, by the way. Yes, daytime temperatures may also be hellishly hot, but they aren't at the cutting…


March 20, 2017 - Happy Spring, everybody. Today's post will be brief: the ten-year average for number of wildfires during January through mid-March is 8,687 fires that burned 216,894 acres per year in the United States. This year there have been 10,829 fires during that period, burning 2,062,012 acres. You read that right.