Cover Crop Research

(Doug) I am Doug Shoup. I am the Southeast Area Agronomist for Kansas State University. And I’m here today to talk to you about some cover crop research that we’ve been doing in Kansas over the last several years. This was a project that was funded by the Kansas Soybean Commission last year. But we had started this project in 2011. It was a corn/soybean rotation. We wanted to look at the impacts of cover crops on soybeans. And so what we found over the last several years is that we can get some yield increases from cover crops, but we can also get some yield decreases in cover crops. The more we learn about cover crops in all of our research in Kansas is that water plays a pivotal role in the performance of the following crop after a cover crop. So in the years that we had cover crops in 2012 for instance, it was really dry and we saw a couple bushel loss in soybean production. 2014 was a little bit different, we had more moisture. And so we actually had a couple yield increases from cover crops. And so really when we look at a lot of our soybean data over the last five, six or seven years of doing cover crop research, there’s some positive some negative, but in general, it’s about neutral. Now, the thing that I preach to producers and I feel like they’re doing this already, is that cover crops do cost money. And if a producer is going to make money back on their cover crop investment, a good way to do that is by grazing livestock. And we have separate research studies showing that when we graze cover crops and we pull those animals off early enough in the winter, allow that ground to freeze and thaw, we don’t really have a compaction problem, for instance. And we haven’t seen any yield differences between grazed and ungrazed cover crops. And then the soybean crop the following year. Now, some recent questions that I have had over the last several years is that we have been combating herbicide resistant weeds pretty severely in Kansas. And one of the biggest weed problems has been pigweed. And so when we think about an integrated weed management approach to try and keep us from getting herbicide resistant weeds, cover crops can be an integral part of that system. We find that with the higher biomass producing cover crops that we actually suppress weeds more and we actually have a research project on Palmer Amaranth where we have shown higher biomass does a significant suppressant in Palmer Amaranth that following season. And so we’re not relying solely on the herbicide, you can actually incorporate other things like row spacing in crops, but in this project you can also incorporate things like cover crops and they do actually provide some additional benefit from a weed standpoint. Now similarly to Palmer Amaranth, we also have seen the same thing with Mare’s Tail. Mare’s Tail is another weed that producers in Kansas fight quite often. And we’ve also had some research studies conducted in Manhattan that show very similar results where we have a higher biomass producing cover crops like cereal rye and winter barley, and even winter wheat for example, actually do a pretty decent job of suppressing Mare’s Tail. Some of that is confounded by when the Mare’s Tail actually germinates. But if that cover crop can get planted and get up before the Mare’s Tail has a chance to germinate, it’s going to do a really nice job of suppressing Mare’s Tail as well.

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