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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: ECOLOGICALLY-BASED SOIL AND CROP MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE Title: The impact of fall cover crops on soil nitrate and corn growth

Authors
item Osborne, Shannon
item Dagel, Kurt
item Forgey, Dan -
item Beck, Dwayne -

Submitted to: Agricultural Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: November 23, 2010
Publication Date: January 15, 2011
Citation: Osborne, S.L., Dagel, K.J., Forgey, D., Beck, D. 2011. Impact of fall cover crops on soil nitrate and corn growth. Agricultural Journal. 6:35-39.

Interpretive Summary: Cover crops incorporated into current production systems may have many beneficial impacts on the cropping system including decreasing erosion, improving water infiltration, increasing soil organic matter and biological activity but in water limited areas caution should be utilized. A field study was established in the fall of 2007 to evaluate the impact of incorporating cover crops into a no-till crop production system in central South Dakota. Cover crops utilized in the experiment were: 1) cowpea, 2) lentils, 3) canola, 4) cow/can/len, 5) cow/can, 6) can/len, 7) radish/cow/can/len, and 8) turnip/cow/len/can combos all compared to no-cover crop. Cover crops were allowed to grow throughout the fall and winter killed. Cover crop biomass was collect prior to a killing frost. The following spring corn was planted and in-season growth and grain yield was evaluated. When cover crops were incorporated into the production practices there was a significant increase in grain yield compared to the no cover crop treatment without additional nitrogen. While when nitrogen was applied to the corn crop yields did not increase as dramatically compared to the no cover crop treatment. Fall cover crops had the ability to scavenge residual soil nitrate and make it plant available for the following crop providing a positive environmental benefit beyond the above mentioned benefits and did not have a negative impact on soil moisture.

Technical Abstract: Incorporating cover crops into current production systems can have many beneficial impacts on the current cropping system including decreasing erosion, improving water infiltration, increasing soil organic matter and biological activity but in water limited areas caution should be utilized. A field study was established in the fall of 2007 to evaluate the impact of incorporating cover crops into a no-till crop production system in central South Dakota. Cover crops utilized in the experiment were: 1) cowpea (Vigna sinensis), 2) lentils (Lens culinaris), 3) canola (Brassica napus), 4) cow/can/len, 5) cow/can, 6) can/len, 7) radish (Raphanus sativus)/cow/can/len, and 8) turnip (Brassica napa)/cow/len/can combos all compared to no-cover crop. Cover crops were allowed to grow throughout the fall and winter killed. Cover crop biomass was collect prior to a killing frost. The following spring corn was planted and in-season growth and grain yield was evaluated. When cover crops were incorporated into the production practices there was a significant increase in grain yield compared to the no cover crop treatment without additional nitrogen. While when nitrogen was applied to the corn crop yields did not increase as dramatically compared to the no cover crop treatment. Fall cover crops had the ability to scavenge residual soil nitrate and make it plant available for the following crop providing a positive environmental benefit beyond the above mentioned benefits and did not have a negative impact on soil moisture.

Last Modified: 12/17/2014
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