Learn about best practices for cover crops to optimize crop production

Soybeans growing in a field in Pennsylvania in the summer of 2016. The study looked at the impact of cereal rye seeding rate, termination time, and nitrogen level. This field used a high seeding rate, high nitrogen content and green plantings. Credit: Heidi Reed

Planting cover crops is a beneficial agricultural practice. One of their many benefits is to cover the ground during times when farmers cannot plant cash crops like corn and soybeans, such as during the winter. But it’s not as simple as growing cover crops between growing seasons. Farmers have multiple decisions to make to optimize cover crop production.

Researchers like Heidi Reed at Pennsylvania State University want to help farmers make the best decisions about their cover crops. In a recent study, Reed and his team looked at the impact of cereal rye seeding rate, termination time, and nitrogen level. The study was published in Agronomy reviewa publication of the American Society of Agronomy.

Research has focused on the effects of cover crops on soil and soybeans after planting. Their study took place at two sites in Pennsylvania for three years. “This type of applied research is so important because sustainable practices need to work for farmers,” Reed explains. “We want these methods to be widely adopted.”

Rye seeding rate is the amount of grain rye seed that is planted in a certain area. The researchers tested three different seeding rates. Similarly, nitrogen rate is the amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied in each zone. They tested two different amounts in the study.

The notice period is more complex. It has to do with when the cover crop is killed to make room for the crop the farmer will grow and sell, which is the soybeans in the study. “Preplant-kill” is when the cover crop is killed before the soybeans are planted. “Green planting” refers to the death of the cover crop after planting soybeans. This means the cover crop is green and growing when the soybeans are planted. The researchers were curious how termination time would impact soybeans.

Learn about best practices for cover crops to optimize crop production

Researchers cut rye biomass from the field as part of the study. Study results revealed that rye seeding rate had no impact on rye biomass or soil moisture, which then had no impact on soybeans. Combined with green planting, the higher nitrogen rate reduced soybean yield. But green planting combined with the lowest rye seeding rate and the lowest nitrogen rate kept soybean yields steady and didn’t require as much rye seed and fertilizer as the other options. Credit: Heidi Reed

“The timing of termination can impact soybeans because it dramatically changes the environment in which soybeans are planted,” Reed says. “The timing of the finish impacts more than the size of a cover crop. A cover crop finished later will have more biomass than a cover crop finished early due to its longer growth. of the end also has an impact on whether the cover crop is dead or alive at the time of planting the soybeans.”

Reed and his team hypothesized that seeding rate would impact rye biomass, or the total amount of plants growing. This meant that it could also impact soy in one way or another. They thought something similar about nitrogen levels. They hypothesized that more nitrogen would result in more rye biomass.

However, the results of the study were mixed. They found that rye seeding rate had no impact on rye biomass or soil moisture, which then had no impact on soybeans. Combined with green planting, the higher nitrogen rate reduced soybean yield. But green planting combined with the lowest rye seeding rate and the lowest nitrogen rate kept soybean yields steady and didn’t require as much rye seed and fertilizer as the other options.

Overall, planting green had many benefits. It doubled the biomass of cereal rye because it was able to live longer. Although this resulted in drier soil when planting, planting green helped retain soil moisture later in the season and kept the soil cooler.

“Our results showed that farmers in climates similar to Pennsylvania can reduce the seeding rate of a cereal rye cover crop to 34 kilograms/hectare (kg/ha) and apply a rate of 34 kg/ha d nitrogen and maintain soybean yield while receiving the benefits of green planting, especially soil moisture management,” says Reed.

“This research interests me personally because I am passionate about promoting cover crops,” says Reed. “Finding ways to lower the barrier to cover crop adoption and potentially help farmers increase their profitability is very satisfying.”


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More information:
Heidi K. Reed et al, Does Winter Cereal Rye Seeding Rate, Termination Time, and Nitrogen Rate Impact No-Till Soybeans?, Agronomy review (2022). DOI: 10.1002/agj2.21030

Provided by the American Society of Agronomy

Quote: Uncovering Best Practices for Cover Crops to Optimize Crop Production (2022, May 31) Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2022-05-uncovering-crops-optimize-crop -production.html

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