Date of this Version
Field Crops Research 302 (2023) 109076. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fcr.2023.109076
Low or variable cover crop (CC) biomass production could limit CC benefits. Longer CC growing periods via late termination could increase CC benefits, especially under limited crop residue return. We studied whether early (2–3 wk before planting)- or late (at planting)-terminated winter rye (Secale cereale L.) CC maintains soil properties, crop yields, and farm income under 0%, 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% corn (Zea mays L.) residue removal in rainfed and irrigated no-till in the U.S. Great Plains after 6 yr. Early-terminated CCs produced < 1 Mg ha-1 of biomass while late-terminated CCs averaged 1.6 Mg ha-1 at the rainfed site and 3.0 Mg ha-1 at the irrigated site. At the rainfed site, CC termination date did not affect soils, but ≥ 75% residue removal reduced soil organic matter (OM) fraction concentrations and 100% reduced mean weight diameter of water-stable aggregates (MWD) in the 0–5 cm depth. At the irrigated site, late-terminated CC increased MWD by 0.22 mm and OM concentration by 5.1 g kg-1 compared with no CC. At the same site, 100% residue removal reduced microbial biomass, while ≥ 50% removal reduced OM concentration by 7.6 g kg-1, available water, and MWD by 0.75 mm relative to no removal. Cover crops only partially offset the adverse effects of residue removal if biomass production was 3 Mg ha-1 yr-1. Corn yield was generally unaffected. High residue removal rates offset CC-induced reduction in net income. Overall, late-terminated CC partially maintains soil health indicators following residue removal and minimally impacts crop yields and economics.