In an era when crop protection products generally mean a complex chemical compound sprayed on a field, and fertilizer are manufactured and applied, it is interesting when alternate ideas catch hold and attract farmer interest. While I have no issue with the safe application of crop protection products and nutrients, recognizing they are basically essential in the effort to keep food production ahead of world population growth, I can also appreciate looking at alternatives. In terms of alternatives, I was intrigued when an email arrived from Saltcoats area farmer Kevin Elmy with a few pictures attached of their Tillage Radish crop. Now I have been an agricultural journalist for a few years now, somewhere over 20 actually, and I can't say I had heard of the crop, and certainly not anything about it being grown in Saskatchewan. For others in the same boat as I was Tillage Radish are basically used as a cover crop, which is a crop planted to enhance production of a companion, or subsequent crop, and not grown to be harvested itself. The foliage, and in this case the underground tubers, since Tillage Radish are more akin to the huge daikon radish popular in Japanese cuisine rather than the small reddish ones grown in Canadian gardens, they are basically a source of green fertilizer. The crop can be cultivated under, or left to natural decay as a nutrient source. But such crops offer more than nutrients, which is why cover crops were once more widely utilized, and why they still hold interest for farmers. The foliage leaves of the Tillage Radish are rather large, and the relatively fast growing crop can provide a canopy over a field which in turns retards weed growth because they do not receive sunlight through the dense leaf cover. In the case of Tillage Radish, and I am sure some other cover crop options, the large, and in particular long tap roots also help draw nutrients back to the surface in situations where they have leeched down in the soil. Given the excess moisture of 2010, there is a definite likelihood of many fields having had nutrients transferred lower in the soil profile. Certainly fertilization will add nutrients, deep tillage can bring nutrients back to the surface, and chemicals can kill weeds, doing all of what a good cover crop can offer, but there is the issue of how much manufactured chemical and fertilizer we want to use when an alternative that is greener on a number of levels exists?Alternatives such as cover crops are not the solution in every instance, and in fact may only be a logical solution in select situations, but it is important crop developers and farmers keep an open mind to alternate uses for crops which enhance farm production in different ways. In some cases crops may be used in alternate ways once produced, canola channeled to biodiesel being an example. In other instances it will be turning to a crop such as Tillage Radish to perform a variety of in-crop functions to better farm production. The main thing is farmers having the willingness to look into alternatives when presented to see if they fit their farm needs.