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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Columbia, Missouri » Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #336970

Title: Effects of cover crops on soil quality: selected chemical and biological parameters

item WEERASEKARA, CHATHURI - University Of Missouri
item UDAWATTA, RANJITH - University Of Missouri
item GANTZER, CLARK - University Of Missouri
item KREMER, ROBERT - University Of Missouri
item JOSE, SHIBU - University Of Missouri
item Veum, Kristen

Submitted to: Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/6/2017
Publication Date: 11/20/2017
Citation: Weerasekara, C.S., Udawatta, R.P., Gantzer, C.J., Kremer, R.J., Jose, S., Veum, K.S. 2017. Effects of cover crops on soil quality: selected chemical and biological parameters. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis. 48(17):2074-2082. doi:10.1080/00103624.2017.1406103.

Interpretive Summary: Cover crops play an important role in soil nutrient management and have been shown to provide many environmental benefits, including improvement in soil quality. However, the short-term impacts of cover crops on soil properties are not well understood. This study was conducted in a greenhouse by growing two types of cover crops (i.e., hairy vetch and cereal rye) on two types of Missouri soils (i.e., Menfro silt loam and Mexico silt loam) and sand. Measurements included above-ground plant biomass, soil microbial activity, and soil nutrient levels. Above-ground biomass increased over the duration of the study with the highest hairy vetch yield on the Menfro silt loam and the highest cereal rye yield on the Mexico silt loam. As the study proceeded, microbial carbon cycling activity increased while soil carbon, N, and P declined along with other measures of microbial activity. These results suggest that cover crops impact soil nutrients and microbial community activity during the growth cycle. Further study is needed to evaluate longer-term, post-production effects of cover crops on soil quality (e.g., residue inputs). The results of this study will benefit producers by providing a better understanding of the short-term effects of cover crops on soil properties and aid in making land management decisions related to cover cropping practices.

Technical Abstract: Cover crops may improve soil physical, chemical, and biological properties and thus help improve land productivity. The objective of this study was to evaluate short-term changes (6, 9, and 12 weeks) in soil chemical and biological properties as influenced by cover crops for two different soils and sand. A greenhouse pot experiment was conducted using hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth.) and cereal rye (Secale cereal) cover crops grown on Menfro silt loam, Mexico silt loam, and sand. Four plants for each treatment were grown in 3.79 L pots. Aboveground biomass production of cover crops, soil enzymes including ß-glucosidase, ß-glucosaminidase, and fluorescein diacetate (FDA) hydrolase activity, and changes of soil chemical properties including total C, N, and P, were evaluated. Aboveground biomass of both cover crops increased with time for all treatments. The highest (p is less than 0.0001) biomass yield for hairy vetch and cereal rye were observed in Menfro silt loam and Mexico silt loam, respectively. Over time, ß-glucosaminidase, FDA, total C, N, and P contents significantly decreased in all treatments for both cover crops. In contrast, ß-glucosidase activity significantly increased with time (p is less than 0.0001). Further studies should include long-term assessments at field scales to evaluate the potential soil quality changes under various cover crops on eroded and marginal soils.