Date of this Version
Agronomy Journal, Volume 104, Issue 3, 2012; doi:10.2134/agronj2011.0422
Achieving agronomic and environmental benefits associated with cover crops oft en depends on reliable establishment of a highly productive cover crop community. The objective of this study was to determine if cover crop mixtures can increase productivity and stability compared to single species cover crops, and to identify those components most active in contributing to or detracting from mixture productivity. A rainfed field experiment was conducted near Mead, NE, in 2010 and 2011. Eight individual cover crop species (in either the Brassicaceae [mustard] or Fabaceae [legume] family) and four mixtures of these species (two, four, six, and eight species combinations) were broadcast planted and incorporated in late March and sampled in late May. Shoot dry weights were recorded for sole crops and individual species within all mixtures. Sole crops in the mustard family were twice as productive (2428 kg ha–1) as sole crops in the legume family (1216 kg ha–1), averaged across 2 yr. The land equivalent ratios (LERs) for all mixtures in 2011 were >1.0, indicating mixtures were more productive than the individual components grown as sole crops. Improved performance in mixture may be related to the ecological resilience of mixed species communities in response to extreme weather events, such as hail. Partial LERs of species in the mustard family were consistently greater than those in the legume family, indicating that mustards dominated the mixtures. Results provide the basis for yield-stability rankings of spring-sown cover crop species and mixtures for the western Corn Belt.