Potential use of cover crops for soil and water conservation, nutrient management, and climate change adaptation across the tropics

Jorge A. Delgado, Victor H. Barrera Mosquera, Jeffrey R. Alwang, Alexis Villacis-Aveiga, Yamil E. Cartagena Ayala, Donna Neer, Carlos Monar, Luis O. Escudero López

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

18 Scopus citations


One of the greatest challenges in the 21st century is the question of how humanity will adapt to a changing climate to continue producing food at the production levels that will be necessary to feed an increasing global population while conserving soil and water resources. While there are political, social and economic factors that impact agricultural development, this paper will not be focusing on those factors, instead focusing on the potential use of cover crops as a nutrient management tool, a soil and water conservation practice, and a good approach to adapting to a changing climate. The potential of using cover crops for climate change adaptation and mitigation will be reviewed. Cover crops are a key tool that could contribute to increased yields, conservation of surface and groundwater quality, reduced erosion potential, sequestration of atmospheric carbon (C), and improved soil quality and health across the tropics. However, there are a lot of research gaps, and there is a need for additional research about the potential use of cover crops for soil, human, and animal health, as well as a need for an open-access data information system about research on cover crops in the tropics. While cover crops show a lot of promise, they are not a silver bullet, and in some circumstances, they can also contribute to reduced yields. We evaluated the use of cover crops and we ranked the different ways that cover crops can contribute to climate change adaptation, on a scale ranging from very low potential to contribute to climate change adaptation to very high potential. For example, cover crops have very high potential to reduce erosion generated by a changing climate in humid systems. On average, cover crops appear to be a good practice for climate change adaptation and mitigation across the tropics, and nutrient managers, agronomists, and soil and water conservation practitioners could add them to their management toolbox for different regions of the tropics. The 4 Rs of cover crops should be applied when using this tool (the right cover crop, the right timing of placement, the right timing of killing, and the right management).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAdvances in Agronomy
EditorsDonald L. Sparks
PublisherAcademic Press Inc
Number of pages73
ISBN (Print)9780128245736
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameAdvances in Agronomy
ISSN (Print)0065-2113


  • Climate change
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Cropping systems
  • Nematode management
  • Nitrate leaching
  • Nitrogen management
  • Soil health
  • Soil quality
  • Water quality
  • Weed management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Potential use of cover crops for soil and water conservation, nutrient management, and climate change adaptation across the tropics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this