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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Auburn, Alabama » Soil Dynamics Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #180709


item Bergtold, Jason
item Reeves, Donald
item Balkcom, Kipling
item Raper, Randy

Submitted to: Meeting Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/27/2005
Publication Date: 6/27/2005
Citation: Bergtold, J.S., Terra, J.A., Reeves, D.W., Shaw, J.N., Balkcom, K.S., Raper, R.L. 2005. Profitability and risk associated with alternative mixtures of high-residue cover crops. In: Proceedings of the 27th Annual Southern Conservation Tillage for Sustainable Agriculture, June 27-29, 2005, Florence, South Carolina. p.113-121.

Interpretive Summary: In order to conserve soil resources in the southeastern United States, many farmers have begun to use alternative production systems that reduce soil erosion. Many farmers have switched from using conventional tillage methods to conservation tillage methods, which leave a significant amount of crop residue on the ground to reduce wind and water erosion of the soil. The higher the amount of residue that remains on the ground, the greater the protection from soil erosion. To increase residue coverage, farmers can plant cover crops in the fall, kill them prior to planting in the spring, and leave their residue on the soil surface during the growing season. This study examines two groups of cover crops that produce high amounts of residue. These two groups of cover crops are (1) black oat and rye; and (2) lupin, crimson clover and fodder radish. The first group is planted prior to cotton and the second group is planted prior to corn. When used with conservation tillage, these two cover crops produced up to 20 percent higher yields for both cotton and corn when compared to conventional tillage methods. Furthermore, in years of low rainfall, production systems with cover crops and conservation tillage were more profitable than production systems using conventional tillage, and were always more profitable when cotton was planted.

Technical Abstract: Conservation tillage systems with cover crops may increase crop yields and net returns when compared to conventional tillage systems. This benefit may be further enhanced with mixtures of high-residue cover crops. The purpose of this paper is to examine the economic profitability and risk associated with alternative high-residue cover crops as part of a conservation tillage system. An experiment was conducted near Shorter, AL using a factorial arrangement of two management systems with six replications on a two-year corn (Zea mays L.) - cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) rotation with both phases of the rotation present each year from 2001 to 2003. The first management system was a conservation system with two groups of cover crops planted prior to corn and cotton. The first group of cover crops was a mixture of white lupin (Lupinus albus L.), crimson clover (Trifolium Incarnatum L.), and fodder radish (Raphanus sativus L.) planted prior to corn. The second group of cover crops was a mixture of black oat (Avena strigosa Shreb.) and rye (Secale cereale L.) planted prior to cotton. The second management system is a conventional tillage system with no cover crop. Results indicate that the use of alternative mixtures of high-residue cover crops, while being more costly to plant than more traditional cover crops, can increase crop yields and decrease the risk of obtaining lower crop yields and net returns in drought years. Given the conservation system with cover crop used was relatively immature; we would expect that these benefits would become more evident over time.