Thursday, September 1, 2011

Its time to cover our soil !

Ajay Nair
Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University

When it comes to reducing soil erosion, suppressing weeds, improving soil fertility and health, increasing water holding capacity, and soil organic matter, there is nothing that comes to mind other than COVER CROPS. Cover crops are crops that are grown to cover bare soil between cash crop plantings, however its impact on biological, chemical, and physical parameters of a production system is far reaching and substantial. Cover cropping provides numerous benefits (mentioned above) which make them attractive and useful in any cropping system.  As we are inching towards our fall season, some overwintering cover crops that could be fall planted in Iowa include winter rye, hairy vetch, oats, winter wheat, and some clovers. Although there are a number of choices, growers should chose cover crops that would fit their cropping system and addresses a specific need or problem. If addition of organic matter and weed suppression is a priority, then winter rye would be a better choice. Leguminous cover crop for example  hairy vetch could be utilized when addition nitrogen is the primary goal.

Our lab in the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University recently set up a cover crop study focusing on cover crop combinations that would enhance nutrient cycling, soil biology & quality,  and improve vegetable production.We are testing winter rye and some other cover crops, individually and in combinations, to develop cover cropping systems that can be utilized for vegetable production in Iowa.  Some aspects of interest include weed suppression, nitrogen management, and crop production. Cover crops seeds were recently broadcasted, incorporated and irrigated (pictures above).

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