Date of this Version
Agronomy Journal, Volume 104, Issue 5, 2012; doi:10.2134/agronj2012.0185
Previous studies have demonstrated benefits of individual cover crop species, but the value of diverse cover crop mixtures has received less attention. The objectives of this research were to determine the effects of spring-sown cover crop mixture diversity and mechanical cover crop termination method on cover crop and/or cash crop productivity, soil moisture and N, and profitability in an organic cropping system. An experiment was conducted between 2009 and 2011 near Mead, NE, where mixtures of two (2CC), four (4CC), six (6CC), and eight (8CC) cover crop species, or a summer annual weed mixture were included in a sunflower– soybean–corn rotation. Cover crops were terminated in late May using a field disk or sweep plow undercutter. Undercutting cover crops increased soil NO3–N (0–20 cm) by 1.0 and 1.8 mg NO3–N kg–1 relative to disk incorporation in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Cover crop mixtures often reduced soil moisture (0–8 cm) before main crop planting, though cover crop termination with the undercutter increased soil moisture content by as much as 0.024 cm3 cm–3 compared to termination with the disk during early main crop growth. Crop yields were not influenced by cover crop mixture, but termination with the undercutter increased corn and soybean yield by as much as 1.40 and 0.88 Mg ha–1, respectively. Despite differences in productivity between spring cover crop mixtures and weed communities, crop yield was not different among these treatments; thus, profitability of the weed mixture–undercutter treatment combination was greatest due to reduced input costs.