There is plenty of green to be seen around St. Patrick’s Day – minty green milkshakes, green-garbed leprechauns and clover galore mark the arrival of the Irish holiday.  

The three-leaf clover, known as a shamrock, has been a longstanding symbol of St. Patrick’s Day associated with the patron saint of Ireland. 

A four-leaf clover was considered lucky because it is rare to find – only one in 10,000 clovers bear the extra leaf. Legends of old suggest that four-leaf clovers offer magical protection and ward off bad luck. 

Similarly, farmers plant clover as a cover crop for soil protection and to ward off weeds.  

A farmer kneels in a field to examine a cover crop including clover. The field is grassy and green.

Cover crops are plants used to slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, and control weeds, pests and diseases while building soil biodiversity. Planting cover crops provides fuel for the soil in dormant periods between fall harvest and spring planting. 

It is not just luck that makes clover one of the most widely used cover crops.

There are many benefits to planting clover as a cover crop. It is a versatile plant that will grow in different soil conditions and environments. 

In addition to preventing soil erosion by holding soil and water in place, clover naturally produces nitrogen.

Nitrogen is an important nutrient needed to grow corn. Planting clover as a cover crop in the fall before planting corn in the spring prepares the soil to grow a healthy crop.  

Clover attracts beneficial insects to the field. It is a great food source for pollinators and helps to build biodiversity in farm fields. It can also help to suppress weeds. 

A close up look at a grassy cover crop mixture of clover and rye in a field.

Finally, clover can even be used to feed cattle.

Maximizing soil cover by planting cover crops is just one of five guiding soil health principles that help farmers improve soil health and protect water quality.  

Farmers don’t just trust their luck when it comes to conservation; they work closely with experts and researchers to identify the best tools to use on their farm to meet their goals. They also network with other farmers in the area to learn and share their experiences.  

The color green suggests that St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are near. Along with the arrival of minty shakes and shamrocks, farm fields begin to turn green with the crops that contribute to a safe, sustainable food supply.