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Improving cover crop management: Cover crop mixtures with different termination methods

Principal Investigator: Laura Van Eerd and Joshua Nasielski

Research Institution: University of Guelph (U of G)

Timeline: April 2019 – March 2024   

Objectives:

  • To assess cover crop growth and residues remaining after termination in terms of quantity of aboveground biomass and N content in the fall (before freeze-up) and the following spring.
  • To quantify the impact of various cover crop systems (species, mixture, tillage, termination methods) on grain corn emergence, growth and yield as well as select soil parameters at corn planting.

Impacts:

  • By developing a better understanding of the complex interactions within the agroecosystems, this research program will facilitate development of effective and cost-efficient cover crop recommendations based on mixtures and tillage practices, which will allow growers to be more confident in cover cropping management and predicting the potential outcomes.
  • Beyond advancing scientific knowledge, the proposed research program has impact on the general public by providing agronomic recommendations for best management practices (i.e., cover crops and reduced tillage) that are recommended to improve soil organic matter and soil health with more stable agroecosystem resiliency and increased biodiversity (including microbes, insects, birds), which is of benefit for all Canadians.
  • The development of new regionally-specific production recommendations will provide farmers with information to be more economically and environmentally sustainable by adopting cover crops and reduced tillage practices, which is in alignment with agricultural policies.
  • Application of results from optimization of cover crop mixtures and termination methods in various locations will help meet farmer demand for local information about optimal cover crop strategies. By quantifying value to farmers in terms of improvements into their corn crop, this research may provide strong incentives for integration of cover crops under various environmental conditions within a large regional scale.
  • Identification of well-adapted cover crop mixtures may spur development and marketing of cover crop seed mixes tailored to specific Ontario locales, enhancing cover cropping adoption rate and boosting business interest in selling cover crops as a farm input.

Scientific Summary:

Integration and management of cover crops is challenging due to the immediate time and cost constraints, while potential benefits may be long-term. Adjusting cover crop production methods may balance these challenges while meeting producer goals. But there are many cover crop species and mixtures to choose from, especially with winter wheat in the rotation. Moreover, there are many different cover crop termination methods, such as winter kill, herbicides or tillage and various tillage approaches (no-till, strip/zone tillage, bio-till, etc.).  With the complex interactions of cover crop planting and termination options, research is needed to identify effective strategies. The proposed research will evaluate, in terms of grain corn yield, various cover crop termination methods.

This proposed research will benefit Ontario grain farmers by identifying cover crop management strategies (i.e., mixtures, termination, tillage) that are a benefit or detriment to grain corn yield. While many farmers intuitively realize that there are soil and environmental benefits to cover cropping, there are barriers to adoption. Improper management of cover crops can lead to substantial yield losses. The proposed research is expected to identify some of these production barriers. With the knowledge gained from the proposed project, we can provide sound management recommendations from cover crop planting to termination. Moreover, the cover crop BMPs likely vary across the province; hence, we will evaluate these cover crop strategies in the south (Ridgetown), east (Winchester) and north (New Liskeard), under various environmental conditions (e.g., soil types, precipitation, temperature etc.). With the knowledge gained from the proposed project, we can provide sound, regionally-specific management recommendations.

External Funding Partners:

Cribit Seeds

Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance

The project was funded in part by the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, a collaboration between the government of Ontario and the University of Guelph.

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