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In agriculture, a nurse crop is an annual crop used to assist in establishment of a perennial crop. The widest use of nurse crops is in the establishment of legumaceous plants such as alfalfa, clover, and trefoil. Occasionally nurse crops are used for establishment of perennial grasses.
Nurse crops reduce the incidence of weeds, prevent erosion, and prevent excessive sunlight from reaching tender seedlings. Often the nurse crop can be harvested for grain, straw, hay, or pasture. Oats are the most common nurse crop, though other annual grains are also. Nurse cropping of tall or dense-canopied plants, may protect more vulnerable species through shading or by providing a wind break.