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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Agroecosystem Management Research

Title: Can cover crop and manure maintain or improve soil properties after stover removal from irrigated no-till corn?

item Blanco-canqui, Humberto
item Ferguson, Richard
item Jin, Virginia
item Schmer, Marty
item Wienhold, Brian
item Tatarko, John

Submitted to: Soil Science Society of America Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/14/2014
Publication Date: 8/6/2014
Publication URL:
Citation: Blanco-Canqui, H., Ferguson, R.B., Jin, V.L., Schmer, M.R., Wienhold, B.J., Tatarko, J. 2014. Can cover crop and manure maintain or improve soil properties after stover removal from irrigated no-till corn? Soil Science Society of America Journal. 78:1368-1377. DOI: 10.2136/SSSAJ2013.12.0550.

Interpretive Summary: Corn stover, the plant material left on the field after grain harvest, has many purposes. Corn stover protects the soil surface from wind and water erosion. Corn stover also adds back organic material to the soil, helping to maintain soil fertility. Removing corn stover for livestock feed or bioenergy purposes could increase soil erosion and decrease soil fertility. It is not clear whether other management practices such as cover crop or animal manure use could counteract the effects of corn stover removal. This short-term study (3 years) in south central Nebraska indicated that stover removal at a high rate (63%) can increase the potential for wind erosion. The addition of cover crop or manure did not offset stover removal effects on wind erosion potential, but did decrease the impact of stover removal on other near-surface soil properties in this irrigated no-till continuous corn system.

Technical Abstract: Addition of cover crops and animal manure following corn (Zea mays L.) stover removal for expanded uses may mitigate negative soil property effects of stover removal. We studied the short-term (3 yr) cumulative impacts of stover removal with and without winter rye (Secale cereale L.) cover crop or animal manure application on near-surface (0- to 5-cm depth) soil properties under irrigated no-till continuous corn on a Hastings silt loam (fine, smectitic, mesic Udic Argiustolls) (<3% slope) near Clay Center, NE. Treatments were irrigation levels (full and deficit), amelioration practices (none, cover crop, or animal manure), stover removal (no removal or maximum removal), and N fertilization (125 or 200 kg N ha-1). Data collected after 3 yr indicate that stover removal (63%) reduced geometric mean diameter of dry aggregates 93%, increased erodible fraction sixfold, and reduced aggregate stability 32% compared with plots without stover removal. Stover removal from plots with cover crop or manure reduced dry aggregate size and stability and increased erodible fraction compared with plots without removal and amelioration practices, indicating that amelioration practices did not offset stover removal effects. Stover removal reduced wet aggregate stability and soil organic C (SOC) concentration in the 0- to 2.5-cm depth, but cover crop or manure mitigated these small reductions. Stover removal did not change water infiltration rates and had small effects on particulate organic matter (POM). Overall, in the short term, cover crop or manure may not provide sufficient protection from raindrop impact and wetting and drying cycles to maintain soil structure, resulting in increased susceptibility to wind erosion. Use of these amelioration practices, however, may offset changes in surface layer wet aggregate stability and SOC after high rates of stover removal in this region.

Last Modified: 10/18/2017
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