Agronomy and Horticulture Department


Date of this Version



Soil Sciences Society of America Journal (2023): 1–17

doi: 10.1002/saj2.20566


Open access material.


Duration of cover crop (CC) management, CC biomass production, and other factors could impact how CC affects soil health. We studied the 8-year cumulative impacts of winter rye (Secale cereale L.) CC on soil physical, chemical, and biological properties in rainfed and irrigated no-till corn (Zea mays L.)-based systems in the western US Corn Belt. Average annual CC biomass production was 0.56 ± 0.51 Mg ha−1 at the rainfed site and 0.98 ± 0.95 Mg ha−1 at the irrigated site. After 8 years, CC improved particulate organic matter (POM) and mean weight diameter of waterstable aggregates (MWD) compared with no CC in the 0–5 cm soil depth at both sites. Cover crop increased total POM concentration by 2.8 mg g−1 at the rainfed site and by 13.4 mg g−1 at the irrigated site, while it increased MWD by 0.39 mm at the rainfed site and by 0.79 mm at the irrigated site. Also, CC increased soil C at a rate of 0.125 Mg ha−1 year−1 in the 0–5 cm depth but only at the rainfed site. Cover crop affected neither water infiltration nor available water but improved microbial biomass. Changes in other properties were site-dependent. Cover crop improved many soil properties after 8 years even though measurement taken after 4 years showed no significant effect of CC, which indicates CC slowly impacts properties in this environment. Low CC biomass production and high biomass input from corn-based systems may explain the slow soil response. In general, winter rye CC enhances near-surface soil properties in the long term.