Cover Crops: U of I Research Project and Upcoming NRCS Webinar

Why the recent interest in cover crops? During the past several years, there has been a growing buzz about cover crops. Whether this was because producers were interested in experimenting with ways to reduce soil and nutrient loss, they were able to shoulder more risk(s) because of higher commodity prices, or state and federal conservation agencies were pushing cover crop use and/or offering cost-share opportunities, no one can deny the buzz.

It remains to be seen how recent issues such as the uncertainty over the passage of a Farm Bill (and the conservation programs it may or may not contain) and lower commodity prices may influence producers' decisions to incorporate cover crops into their rotation.

University of Illinois research project. Drs. Maria Villamil and Emerson Nafziger and four field-based Commercial Agriculture Extension Educators associated with University Research Centers are researching cover crops through a grant funded by fertilizer check-off dollars and the Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council. In this five-year study, we are working to investigate the effects of winter cover crops and spring tillage on soil nitrogen and phosphorus retention and corn and soybean grain yield.

As part of this project, experimentation also moved on-farm in fall 2013. We are working closely with farmer cooperators throughout the state to investigate the effects of a winter cover crop on both soil nitrogen retention and subsequent crop yield.

In one farm field near Altona in Knox County, annual ryegrass and diakon radish seeds were aerially seeded into standing corn. Despite the dry soil conditions, short bursts of rain after seeding helped germination and plant establishment (Figure).

Want more information? So do we. Despite the cover crops buzz, there is very little research in the scientific literature that has been carried out in the Midwest. This lack of research makes it difficult for Illinois Extension to offer clientele research-based information. The project detailed above plans to help to change that.

Also, the guidelines for using cover crops on acres covered under Federal crop insurance programs have not always been as cut and dried as many would have liked. Various Federal agencies (USDA – Risk Management Agency, NRCS, and the Farm Service Agency) have recently worked together to develop a consistent policy for cover crop termination guidelines. These new guidelines will be discussed in an upcoming webinar at 2 pm (CST) on January 23rd, 2014.