A South Carolina Farmer's Cover Crop Success

A South Carolina Farmer's Cover Crop Success
Cassidy Spencer
March 9, 2024
A South Carolina Farmer's Cover Crop Success

Rupert Burrows is a third-generation farmer managing 65 acres near Kingstree, South Carolina. He tried out cover crops on some of his most severely degraded soil, soil so sandy and dry that he had written it off. In early June, he planted a cover crop mix consisting of sunn hemp, sorghum sudangrass, millet, cowpea, and radish. At the end of August his cover crop was averaging eight feet tall.

Lush sunn hemp and cowpeas in Rupert’s summer cover mix.

“What surprises me is this land hasbeen severely degraded soil, almost like beach sand,” says Burrows. “(It had)very little structure and it's very dry at this point, so to get this kind ofgrowth out of it in a season such as we've had is amazing!”


Cover crops offer a wealth of benefits to degradedsoils. Whereas previous farmers may have not wanted to overwork or overload theirsoil, many studies in recent years illustrate cover crops’ amazing capacity tobring poor soil back from the brink.


Among their many benefits, cover crops support theconstruction of soil aggregates, which encourage mycorrhizal fungi activity andsoil structure that can hold up against extreme weather events like floods anddroughts. Cover crops also add plant diversity. Plants were naturally designedto thrive in diverse ecosystems, so by enhancing plant diversity, farmersrecreate natural conditions and gradually decrease the need for artificial soiladditives.

 Further, Burrows lives in South Carolina, where hot seasons can scorch crops. He planted two test patches of soybeans; one with a cover crop and one without.

“Growth-wise there's a substantial difference between the cover crop soybeans and the soybeans without,” says Burrows. “The soybeans without cover look starved for moisture and I can definitely tell the ground temperature is hotter, versus where this cover crop is growing it's cooler, it still has some moisture, despite the fact that we haven't had a sufficient rain at least in the last 20 to 30 days.”

Rupert and Dr. Buz Kloot collecting soil samples.

Cover crops have also suppressed weeds on the Burrows property. He’s carved out a lane to drive through his property, where he’s watched some of his usual weeds show up, but that’s the only place that they are still pushing through. In the field, the cover crops have all but choked out the presence of weeds among his crops.

He has had an issue in the past with wild hogs from surrounding swamplands infesting his property and destroying crop, but since the introduction of cover crops, those weeds that attracted the wild hogs have been noticeably suppressed, driving down the hog damage. The cover crops also add density to the vegetation on his property, which wild hogs are less interested in pushing into.

Dr. Buz Kloot showing the height of Rupert’s summer cover crop.

Next, Burrows plans to “mash” the covers down: “What I’m planning on doing is getting a telephone pole, putting a chain on it, and dragging the covers down with a tractor,” says Burrows. “Then I plan to no-till seed a fall cover crop into this. I want to do that to continue with the growth that we’ve started here. I’m also exploring the possibility of putting some chicken litter out to help boost fertility.”

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