What Are Service Crops?
Accepted practice in conservation agriculture is ground cover with the help of service crops, also known as cover crops, that allow the building of biomass that defends the soil surface from environmental damage, caused by erosion, excessive heat, and weed competition over the entire year, as in natural systems. Producing ground cover can be conducted using wild plants or sowing cultivated species, such as oats and clover, among trees in commercial orchards and vineyards, or between agronomic-crop plantings in fields. In Israel, this practice is becoming more widespread in orchards and vineyards, but is hardly used for agronomic crops.
The most salient advantage of the use of service crops is conserving the porosity of the soil to allow rainwater to be absorbed, and thereby decreasing runoff and soil erosion. Beyond this important advantage, service crops also result in improved soil structure, accumulation of organic matter in the soil, increase in the number of taxa on and below the soil surface, decreasing leakage of pesticides and fertilizers from the field to immediate environment, and competition with weedy plants.
Our objective on the Model Farm at Newe Ya‘ar is to deploy this agronomic practice in field-crop cycles to improve sustainability and durability of Israeli agriculture, even in conditions of climate change, by study and adjustment to the local conditions of the Yizre‘el Valley.
Video reviewing a learning process in the management of service crops in the field crop cycle: