Once, many farmers considered it enough to allow agricultural land to lie fallow to become replenished with nutrients. But too often, valuable nutrients could be washed away and when the land was reused, it wasn't in the best condition to ensure a decent harvest.
In recent decades, the idea of cover crops has emerged as a progressive farming idea. Planting what is essentially a 'placeholder' crop can actually protect the land, allowing it to recover more quickly, more fully; for example, a cover crop can prevent soil erosion by stopping excess rainfall from washing nutrients away.
Instead, the speed of the water is slowed down by the leaves and reaches the ground at a diminished pace. The result is that the water drains away steadily, rather than landing suddenly and washing away the top soil and the nutrients it contains.
Other functions it has include fighting diseases, enhancing soil stability, increasing microbial populations and soil preservation. Which cover crop is selected depends on the requirement in each case.
The Grand Farm in Absdorf, Austria is part of the Best4Soil Project. Its owner, entrepreneur Alfred Grand, says cover crops have an essential role in progressive farming methods:
"What we find here is different plants, different species. Each species has a specific function. One is reducing compaction in the soil because it has specific roots for that, one is collecting nitrogen, collecting nutrients from the next crop, and one is just providing flowers for the bees.
"So we get a series, or a range of different plants, and each plant has its function at the end.
"That makes soil healthy again - and that's important."