Agronomy and Horticulture Department
Contributions of individual cover crop species to rainfed maize production in semi-arid cropping systems
Date of this Version
Field Crops Research 271 (2021) 108245
Cover crop (CC) species selection can contribute to reducing soil penetration resistance (brassica species), improved soil nitrogen (N) cycling (legume species), and suppression of weeds (grass species). However, one of the main concerns about including CCs in water-limited environments is soil water use and the consequences to subsequent crops. To determine the effects of individual CC species under water-limited environments, we evaluated fall and spring CC biomass produced, and soil water and N content, penetration resistance, weed density and biomass during the maize growing season, and maize grain yield. The experiment was conducted under a winter wheat-maize-fallow rotation at two locations (North Platte and Grant, NE) during 2016−2017 and 2017−2018 (four site-years). Treatments consisted of seven popular CC species plus a control (fallow), planted after winter wheat harvest. Spring oats, Siberian kale, and purple top turnip produced greater fall biomass, while cereal rye produced the greatest amount of spring biomass. However, cereal rye reduced soil volumetric water content in North Platte 2016−2017 and increased soil penetration resistance from 20–30 cm soil depth across site-years likely due to soil water use. Spring cover crop growth suppressed weeds early in the maize growing season. Due to its aboveground biomass production, cereal rye decreased weed density and biomass by 80 and 88 %, respectively, compared to the fallow treatment. On the other hand, except for brassicas, CCs decreased N levels in the soil during maize growing season, and all CC species reduced maize grain yield up to 30 % compared to fallow (except spring oats). Spring oats can be an alternative to cereal rye as CC species for semi-arid regions. However, since CCs did not promote any maize yield gain, our findings suggest that producers should use caution when incorporating CCs in their cropping systems in water-limited environments. This research provides valuable information on the potential impact of CCs on rainfed maize production, as well as help producers and agronomists develop better CC management programs for cropping systems in semi-arid regions.
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