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Cover Cropping Practices that Enhance Soil Fertility

This is a slightly modified version of a presentation that I shared at the 2014 National No-till Conference in Springfield IL

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Cover Cropping Practices that Enhance Soil Fertility

  1. 1. Cover cropping practices that enhance soil fertility Joel Gruver WIU Agriculture
  2. 2. Nutrient inputs Nutrient outputs Nutrient dynamics in agroecosystems What’s missing?
  3. 3. Nutrient losses to the surrounding environment … sometimes exceed nutrient removal by harvest Cover crops are one of many strategies for minimizing losses
  4. 4. How many of you are familiar with the 4R concept? Source matters Great concept for improving nutrient use efficiency but where do cover crops fit in?
  5. 5. DEAN GLENNEY of Dunville, Ontario plants his corn and soybeans on exactly the same rows, drives on the same tracks, and never tills his fields. His Fencerow Farming systems has produced corn yields averaging 275 bu/ac and soybeans averaging around 60 bu/ac.
  6. 6. “One of the things that pops up immediately in our analysis is that Mr. Glenney’s plants use up all of the fertilizer within ~70 days after planting. So in some way this plant is sucking up all of the nutrients, but we’re not sure why yet… The other field still has quite a lot of fertilizer remaining even at the end of the season. It just doesn’t get used. One of the fundamental things that’s happening is in one field the root system must be more efficient in taking up the nutrients.” Dr. George Lazarovits
  7. 7. The ins and OUTS of root function H20 N, S, P Root exudates activate microbes Transpirational stream H20 Diffusion Root growth Outward processes tend to be underappreciated Cover crops enhance outward processes
  8. 8. Mycorrhizae - internet of the soil Mycorrhizae are enhanced by most cover crops and expand the volume of soil supplying water and nutrients to crop roots
  9. 9. Cover crops activate your crop’s digestive system
  10. 10. Cover crops impact nearly all parts of the N cycle
  11. 11. CCs affect many agronomic factors simultaneously Control erosion Feed livestock Cover Crops Adapted from Magdoff and Weil (2004)
  12. 12. Not all effects are positive Host pests Become a weed ? Tie up N ? Interfere w/ equipment performance Suppress crop growth Cover Crops Prevent Dry out soil excessively soil drying Add cost Increase management Adapted from Magdoff and Weil (2004)
  13. 13. Direct effects of cover crops on nutrient cycling •Uptake of nutrients that would otherwise be lost: •Leaching below crop root zone •losses in eroded soil or runoff •losses in gaseous form e.g., denitrification •Translocate nutrients from below crop root zone e.g., from subsoil to near surface • Fix N (legumes) •Release nutrients later—potentially at the time needed by the next crop
  14. 14. Indirect effects of cover crops on nutrient cycling •Increase overall soil biological activity accelerating cycling of nutrients contained in soil organic matter and soil minerals •Increase populations of specific root symbionts (e.g. mycorrhiza ) •Create biopores enhancing air and water movement and root growth and function in subsequent crops •Build soil organic matter at soil surface and throughout soil profile
  15. 15. Choosing CC species for specific objectives Grazing GRAZING = #1 way to make cover crops pay! brassicas, clovers, small grains, a. ryegrass, sorghum-sudan Nutrient scavenging/cycling brassicas, small grains, annual ryegrass Bio-drilling brassicas, sugarbeet, sunflower, sorghum-sudan sweet clover, alfalfa N-fixation clovers, vetches, lentil, winter pea, chickling vetch, sun hemp, cowpea, soybean Bio-activation/fumigation brassicas, sorghum-sudan, sun hemp, sesame Weed suppression brassicas, sorghum-sudan, cereal rye, buckwheat
  16. 16. As we enter a potentially extended period of lower margins strategies to reduce risk become more important •Enroll in programs that pay you to plant CCs •Use time tested CC methods •Use more than one method of planting CCs •Plant mixtures/cocktails •Grow some crops e.g. small grains, vegetables, corn silage, shorter season hybrids/varieties that are harvested early •Plan residual herbicide programs carefully •Scout for insect pests that are attracted to residue •Irrigate/ fertilize CC •Capture CC value by grazing •Adjust cropping system to improve CC performance •Reduce fertilizer inputs modestly on an experimental basis
  17. 17. Some CC innovators have cut back on fertilizer but > 160 CC most CC innovators have NOT substantially changed their fertilizer programs
  18. 18. My students have conducted many other types of interview projects It is difficult for research farms to replicate the careful management on innovative farms
  19. 19. ~ 12000 views in 48 hours How many of you remember this post?
  20. 20. Wheat was harvested and then on August 4th he came back with his 24 row 30" Kinze planter equipped with our Dawn 1572 coulter combo and milo seed plates. He filled 12 boxes on one side of the planter with tillage radish seed and the other 12 boxes with Austrian winter peas. He doubled back on 15" centers with RTK guidance on his Cat tractor and ended up with no-tilled alternating rows of tillage radishes and Austrian winter peas into wheat stubble. No fertilizer was used and glypho was sprayed right after the August 4th planting to kill any volunteer wheat. Radish was planted at 2.5 lb/acre and peas at 15 lb/acre The stand was amazing! The pit showed these huge radishes breaking up the very hard top soil down to about 24" and into the subsoil. The tillage needed without bring up the rocks and with low (zero) hp required!
  21. 21. “This customer will strip till into these radishes for corn about the first of May with his 24 row Pluribus system on a Bauer 60 ft bar, banding P,K and 1/3 of his N as dry fertilizer with a Montag cart into the strip. Then come back and side dress the remaining 2/3 of his N with our 6000 on the same Bauer toolbar as liquid 28 or 32%. 30" beans will get fall fertilizer into corn stalks and spring strip till to give a warm, cleared, fertilized seedbed. The system these folks are evolving finally came into focus for me - the parts all fit together: A Wheat-Corn-Bean rotation with "tillage" done via RADISHES (!!) into the wheat stubble every third year! All done with a single 60 ft 30" planter, RTK and one 60ft toolbar I came away from there thinking I have seen the future of production agriculture, at least in some areas”
  22. 22. “This customer will strip till into these radishes for corn about the first of May with his 24 row Pluribus system on a Bauer 60 ft bar, banding P,K and 1/3 of his N as dry fertilizer with a Montag cart into the strip. Then come back and side dress the remaining This 6000 on the same great toolbar as liquid system sounds Bauer ! 2/3 of his N with our 28 or 32%. 30" beans will get fall fertilizer into corn stalks and I to give a warm, cleared, fertilized seedbed. spring strip tillwonder what has been learned in the past 3 years? The system these folks are evolving finally came into focus for me - the partsIs precision planting of CC the rotation with all fit together: A Wheat-Corn-Bean "tillage" done via RADISHES (!!) into the wheat stubble every future or too hard on the planter? third year! All done with a single 60 ft 30" planter, RTK and one 60ft toolbar I came away from there thinking I have seen the future of production agriculture, at least in some areas”
  23. 23. We are doing research on bio-strip-till within an organic context
  24. 24. I don’t believe that these effects are primarily the result of nutrient uptake by CC because the changes in K are too large – research is on-going
  25. 25. Have you explored all possible options for bringing grazing animals to your farm to process CC residues and add value? Oats, turnips and cereal rye > 2/3rds of nutrients returned to the soil
  26. 26. Optimizing fertility for CC • Inoculate legumes • Inoculate non-legumes? • Fertilize cover crops when residual fertility is low
  27. 27. low cost risk management
  28. 28. 133 lbs of K/ac 52 lbs of Ca/ac Legume CCs contain a lot more than N Hairy Vetch 3,260 lbs of DM/ac 141 lbs of N/ac 18 lbs of P/ac 18 lbs of Mg/ac
  29. 29. +20 lbs N/a doubled the growth of spring planted GRAZA radishes
  30. 30. (Serran, 2005)
  31. 31. Because of their deep root system, rapid root extension, and heavy N feeding, radishes are excellent scavengers of residual N following summer crops. Radishes take up N from both the topsoil and from deeper soil layers, storing the N in their shoot and root biomass. With favorable fall growing conditions for 60+ days, radishes typically take up more than 100 lb/ac of N. Without available N, radishes grow very poorly
  32. 32. Early planting of radish promotes high biomass production and associated nutrient accumulation but research at the University of Maryland has shown that late planted radishes can still take up substantial quantities of N despite low biomass production due to shifts in plant C:N ratio (Dean and Weil, 2009).
  33. 33. Radishes are excellent N scavengers but what happens to this N?
  34. 34. Unlike cereal rye and other small grains whose residues decompose slowly and continue to immobilize N for an extended period, radish residues decompose and release N rapidly. Timely crop establishment following radishes can result in an early boost in growth and N uptake similar to following a legume cover crop or N fertilizer application. In contrast, if planting is delayed and weather/soil conditions are conducive to leaching or denitrification, the availability of N scavenged by radishes to subsequent crops may be limited.
  35. 35. Pat Sheridan (Fairgrove, Michigan) We've done some PSNT tests with and w/o fall seeded radish. Kind of a moving target (year to year) in N credits, but I will say that we've always had a bigger credit following radish than what we had without. That could be for a lot reasons. Weather, soil types, temp, etc. I've had an increase of almost 80#s of N using radish vs none, and I've had an increase of 20# vs none. N credit is a very nice benefit of using a cover like radish, but I also like the other benefits from radish we've observed.
  36. 36. Radish effects on Soil Phosphorus and Potassium Radishes are excellent accumulators of P and K (root dry matter commonly contains more than 0.5% P and 4% K), and elevated levels of soil test P have been measured following radish cover cropping, particularly within 1–1.5 inches of radish root holes. Despite radish being a non-host of mycorrhizal fungi, mycorrhizal colonization of corn following radish does not appear to be suppressed.
  37. 37. Understanding the mineralization of CCs Early kill date = 114 lbs total N Early kill date = 107 lbs total N Late kill date = 131 lbs total N Late kill date = 140 lbs total N 50% N 2 wks <4 wks Wagger (1989)
  38. 38. New publication
  39. 39. N content (%N) is a good predictor of N mineralization Majority of N mineralization occurs within 4 weeks PAN = plant available N
  40. 40. Biomass from different CC species but with similar N content behaves similarly Higher N content = lower C:N ratio Same data presented in 2 different ways
  41. 41. Only the legumes had net N mineralization during the first 4 weeks
  42. 42. U of I on-farm cover crop research (grain yields = bu/acre) Location Cover Crop Grain Crop 0 lb N/ac 60 lb N/ac 180 lb N/ac 240 lb N/ac Hortin Hairy Vetch Corn 169 184 180 184 Hortin Fallow Corn 105 142 162 164 Hortin Rye Corn 65 102 119 120 Hortin Hairy Vetch Sorghum 90 97 99 100 Hortin Fallow Sorghum 74 87 94 92 Hortin Rye Sorghum 54 72 77 74 Cereal rye often suppresses corn and sorghum yields
  43. 43. Effect of kill date on typical plant available N (PAN) release from cereal, legume, or mixed stands. Based on compilation of field data from Willamette Valley cover crop trials. Source: D. Sullivan
  44. 44. Crop canopy sensors are likely to become important tools for assessing the N contributions from CCs
  45. 45. Frost seeded red clover is the most time tested method of integrating a legume CC in Midwest cropping systems Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial Hairv vetch planted after wheat worked well in the 2 years out of 9 when the red clover did not establish well What would it take to get you to grow some wheat?
  46. 46.
  47. 47. Some legumes retain more N in their roots
  48. 48. Interesting new CC research at Illinois State University