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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: CONSERVATION SYSTEMS RESEARCH FOR IMPROVING ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY AND PRODUCER PROFITABILITY Title: Managing Cover Crops in Conservation Tillage Systems

Authors
item Balkcom, Kipling
item Schomberg, Harry
item Reeves, Donald
item Clark, Andy - SUSTAINABLE AG. NETWORK
item Baumhardt, Roland
item Collins, Harold
item Delgado, Jorge
item Duiker, Sjoerd - PENNSYLVANIA STATE
item Kaspar, Thomas
item Mitchell, J -

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: July 2, 2007
Publication Date: July 24, 2007
Citation: Balkcom, K.S., Schomberg, H.H., Reeves, D.W., Clark, A., Baumhardt, R.L., Collins, H.P., Delgado, J.A., Kaspar, T.C., Mitchell, J., Duiker, S. 2007. Managing Cover Crops in Conservation Tillage Systems. In: Clark, A. Managing Cover Crops Profitability. 3rd edition. Handbook Series Book 9. Sustainable Agriculture Network. p. 44-61.

Interpretive Summary: Conservation tillage is defined by USDA-NRCS as a system that leaves enough crop residues on the soil surface after planting to provide 30% soil cover. The effectiveness of conservation tillage systems depends on having sufficient crop residues on the soil surface to protect the soil for most of the year. In many areas, cover crops are grown to protect soils when cash crops are not being grown and to provide additional biomass to meet this year-round requirement. This chapter, prepared by USDA-ARS scientists from the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory in Auburn, AL and the J. Phil Campbell Sr. – Natural Resource Conservation Center in Watkinsville, GA, in conjunction with brief sections from regional authors provides recommendations for successful adoption of cover crops in conservation tillage systems with emphasis on establishment methods, species choices, fertilization, termination methods, economics, and equipment considerations in high-residue. Regional contributors provide specific recommendations for using cover crops in different regions of the US. The information provided in this chapter for the 3rd revision of “Managing Cover Crops Profitably” will be valuable for growers, extension agents, and other scientists needing information on cover crops for their operations, training programs, or research programs.

Technical Abstract: Conservation tillage is defined by USDA-NRCS as a system that leaves enough crop residue on the soil surface after planting to provide 30% soil cover. Conservation tillage systems depend on having crop residues on the soil surface for most of the year. In many areas, cover crops are used to supplement crop residues by providing additional biomass to meet this year-round requirement. Cover crops further benefit conservation tillage systems by providing crop residues to increase soil organic matter and help control weeds, improving soil structure and increasing infiltration, protecting the soil surface and dissipating raindrop energy, reducing the velocity of water that moves over the soil surface, and anchoring soil with roots. General recommendations related to the successful adoption of cover crops in conservation tillage systems are discussed, as well as, specific considerations for different regions of the US. Specific management tips to enhance beneficial effects of cover crops are plant in a timely fashion before cool temperatures are prevalent, for small grain covers, consider additional N fertilizer to enhance biomass production and subsequent benefits, terminate covers a minimum of 3 weeks ahead of anticipated planting date to allow soil moisture recharge and reduce problems associated with allelopathy, pests, and planter operation, and become familiar with available equipment modifications that assist tillage and/or planter operations in heavy residue, which facilitates successful cash crop establishment.

Last Modified: 12/22/2014