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The Potential of Multi-Species Mixtures to Diversify Cover Crop Benefits

Cover crops provide a range of well-documented benefits to growers and the environment. However, no single species can deliver all of these benefits, and hence planting mixtures is gaining increasing attention.

To the best of our knowledge, there is no comprehensive review on different multi-mix strategies.

This article reviews available studies on multi-mixes, focusing on temperate North America, and discusses objective criteria for selecting components of a multi-mix and what future research is needed.

Very few peer-reviewed studies on multi-mixes are currently available; a diversity of species compositions is being tested with a wide range of potential benefits but also with various limitations.

The selection of species in multi-mixes is based on different criteria that help improve multiple ecosystem services. An emerging concept is an importance of selecting cover crop species with functional complementarity rather than simply increasing the number of species.

Based on this concept, objective criteria have been developed to select the species for a multi-mix:

  • grower objectives/primary purpose of planting the cover crop
  • crop rotation and cropping system compatibility
  • above and belowground compatibility
  • the complementarity of different ecosystem functions
  • compatibility with the growing environment
  • the duration for cover crop growth
  • termination option(s) available
  • input/labour costs
  • planting equipment required
  • persistence/weediness
  • potential net economic returns.

We propose a step-wise procedure to develop effective multi-species mixtures. The number of species and their ratio in the mixtures will depend on objective criteria, and hence long-term research is required to assess different species compositions and their impacts.

Learn more about how to use multi-species mixtures to diversify cover crop benefits.

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