What is Continuous Living Cover?
Continuous Living Cover (often referred to as “CLC”) is just what it sounds like: ensuring that there is living plant cover on the ground or living roots in the soil year-round, rather than only during the spring/summer growing season.
This can include planting perennial grains or forage, annual crops that are planted in fall and harvested in spring, and even nut- or berry-producing woody shrubs or tree crops.
These diversified crops expand the number of economic growth opportunities available to farmers while also benefiting water and soil health.
What are the economic benefits for farmers?
CLC crops do not have to replace things like corn and soybeans. Instead, they can fit in with these established annual commodities, either alongside or during the months those fields would otherwise be bare.
In this market-based approach, farmers who incorporate CLC crops can see higher profits and more dollars per acre thanks to a diversified crop portfolio, additional revenue streams and healthier soils. These crops can also attract new investments to the rural agriculture industry.
CLC is a great opportunity to pursue new economic growth without disrupting current operations.
What are examples of CLC crops?
The current research, spearheaded by organizations such as the University of Minnesota, is focused on more than a dozen economically viable crop varieties split across four groups: Perennial grains, oilseeds and forage crops, winter annual crops, and woody/berry crops.
What kinds of products can be made?
Many CLC crops are already being utilized in commercial products. Local manufacturers are using Kernza for things like pancake mix, beer, pasta and cereal, for example. There is also significant demand for hazelnuts in the snacks and spreads market. Winter oilseeds like Camelina and Pennycress can be used for advanced biofuels and food products.
Other potential uses currently being developed or researched include: seed proteins and oils, feed protein and grains, edible fruits, industrial fiber and forage.
We see a world in the not-too-distant future where there is a robust commercial market for these crops.
What are the stewardship benefits?
Year-round cover helps reduce agricultural runoff, while the deep root systems of some of these crops can filter out pollutants before they enter vital groundwater systems. CLC crops:
- Improve soil health
- Reduce soil erosion
- Restore and protect water quality, particularly in areas where nitrate levels are high
- Ensure access to safe drinking water
- Provide important wildlife habitat
Why is now the right time to invest in new CLC crops?
Farmers have become increasingly aware of the benefits of keeping their fields green and growing even outside of the summer growing months. Researchers are developing crops — such as those described above — that can answer that call. Several of these new and improved varieties are now becoming viable market options.