A recent resurgence in cover crop interest has many producers wondering what options work best. The hashtag #RootsNotIron has become a popular Twitter category, with a focus on multi species cover crops and planting the grain crop into live green growing cover crops, with cover crop kill occurring following the planting operation. The impact on yield and any practical field implications has not been well researched. This project will attempt to evaluate these parameters across a range of cropping practices.

Algal blooms in Lake Erie have focused attention on the impact agricultural practices may have on the environment around us. This has put an even higher emphasis on soil conservation practices including cover crops and reduced tillage. It is beyond the scope of this project to measure the impact these practices have on reducing phosphorus losses: but this project will examine the effect that cover crops and reduced tillage have on soil health and crop yields.

In order to build long-term organic matter and not tie up nitrogen, it is important to have some high nitrogen residue (legumes or green leafy cereal plants) to go along with the high carbon residue left behind after corn and wheat harvest. This will help to balance the carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio and provide a variety of residue to feed a wide spectrum of soil microbes. The living roots of a cover crop also play a vital role in releasing carbon and other compounds into the soil to help feed the microorganisms for a longer period of time. The cover crop will increase plant biomass and carbon being returned to the soil, which will increase soil microbial activity. The increase in microbial activity will have numerous benefits on soil health including increased soil organic matter, soil structure and soil tilth. 

Read the entire report here: Roots Not Iron: Evaluating Cover Crop Options and Planting Strategies