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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment » Agroecosystems Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #323969

Research Project: Cropping Systems for Enhanced Sustainability and Environmental Quality in the Upper Midwest

Location: Agroecosystems Management Research

Title: Soil water improvements with the long-term use of a winter rye cover crop

item BASCHE, ANDREA - Iowa State University
item Kaspar, Thomas
item ARCHONTOULIS, SOTIRIOS - Iowa State University
item Jaynes, Dan
item Parkin, Timothy
item Sauer, Thomas - Tom
item MIGUEZ, FERNANDO - Iowa State University

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/14/2015
Publication Date: 12/18/2015
Citation: Basche, A.D., Kaspar, T.C., Archontoulis, S., Jaynes, D.B., Parkin, T.B., Sauer, T.J., Miguez, F. 2015. Soil water improvements with the long-term use of a winter rye cover crop. In: Proceedings of American Geophysical Union 2015 Fall Meeting, December 14-18, 2016, San Francisco, CA.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: The Midwestern United States, a region that produces one-third of maize and one-quarter of soybeans globally, is projected to experience increasing rainfall variability with future climate change. One approach to mitigate climate impacts is to utilize crop and soil management practices that enhance soil water storage, reducing the risks of flooding and runoff as well as drought-induced crop water stress. While some research indicates that a winter cover crop in a maize-soybean rotation increases soil water, producers continue to be concerned that water use by cover crops will reduce water for a following cash crop. We analyzed continuous in-field soil moisture measurements over from 2008-2014 at a Central Iowa research site that has included a winter rye cover crop in a maize-soybean rotation for thirteen years. This period of study included years in the top third of wettest years on record (2008, 2010, 2014) as well as years in the bottom third of driest years (2012, 2013). We found the cover crop treatment to have significantly higher soil water storage from 2012-2014 when compared to the no cover crop treatment and in most years greater soil water content later in the growing season when a cover crop was present. We further found that the winter rye cover crop significantly increased the field capacity water content and plant available water compared to the no cover crop treatment. Finally, in 2012 and 2013, we measured maize and soybean biomass every 2-3 weeks and did not see treatment differences in crop growth, leaf area or nitrogen uptake. Final crop yields were not statistically different between the cover and no cover crop treatment in any of the years of this analysis. This research indicates that the long-term use of a winter rye cover crop can improve soil water dynamics without sacrificing cash crop growth.