Improving Cereal Rye Cover Crop BMPs to Increase Adoption of Cover Crops by Iowa Farmers

Date: 
Oct 2018

Issue

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy calls for cover crop implementation on over 12 million acres. Despite numerous environmental benefits associated with cover crops, many farmers still are hesitant. Major barriers to introducing cover crops as a conservation practice include cost of implementation, yield drag, and knowledge.

Objective

Develop BMPs for cover crops through an improved understanding of the effect of seeding rate, seeding method, and termination date of cereal rye on cover crop biomass accumulation, soil temperature and soil moisture at corn planting; corn growth and development throughout the growing season; incidence, severity and prevalence of insects, diseases and weeds, respectively; crop nutrient uptake and soil nutrient dynamics; and soil biological health indicators. Compare the return on investments among treatments through partial budgets. Survey Iowa farmers planting cover crops to determine the most common methods of seeding among cover crops users, and perceived efficacy of seeding methods among those who do not use them.

Approach

A field study will be planted at the ISU Ag Engineering and Agronomy Farm, and supplemented with data from smaller studies at two outlying research farms. Cover crops will be planted in fall 2018 and 2019. Most data collection will occur in the summers of 2019 and 2020. Information will be collected on the effect of cereal rye seeding rate, seeding method and termination date on cover crop biomass production, corn growth and development, disease, insect and weed management, nutrient loss and recycling, soil health, and return on investment. This data will be used to develop improved BMPs for incorporating a cereal rye cover crop into corn production.

Project Updates

December 2019

Mid-season and end-of-season corn growth data were collected. In general, broadcasting had more of an effect on corn growth than drilling. This is likely because the broadcast treatment had more cover crop biomass. N sensors were removed from the trial at Sorenson and data collated. Analysis and interpretation is in progress.

Data from membranes used to measure soil nitrate and other nutrients available to corn seedlings in early growth were quite variable, so will not be used in 2021. Although data from resin cartridges was also variable, this technology is cheaper and will be used again in 2021 with some modifications.

At Sorenson, a strong effect of seeding rate on microbial biomass was observed in the broadcast treatments. Due to low cover crop biomass in the tilled treatments, microbial biomass was not assessed. No effect of cover crop treatments was detected on weeds or insects. Most likely because of the very low cover crop biomass accumulation.

Disease data were analyzed. At all locations, greater radical and seminal disease incidence occurred in the broadcast treatments compared to the tilled treatments. Even so, disease severity was very low. At Crawfordsville and Sorenson, corn shoot and root weight at V3 and yield was less than that of the drilled treatments. No effect of seeding rate or method was detected on populations of Pythium clade B or clade F in corn roots.

Economic analysis is in progress. Researchers partnered with IDALS on its cover crop user survey. Data on crop cover crop seeded into, type of cover crop, acres planted /cost shared, timing of seeding and method used are already being collected. In 2020, data on seeding rate will also be collected. Cover crop treatments were planted in September/October, and resin cartridges installed in specific plots at Sorenson.

December 2018

Broadcast cereal rye treatments were planted in mid-September 2018 at all locations. Drill-seeded cereal rye treatments were planted October 29 in Ames, October 22 2018 in Sutherland, and October 26 in Crawfordsville. Note: This is later than usual as soybean harvest was delayed due to above-normal precipitation in September.

The McDaniel lab installed resin lysimeters in plots at the AEA farm location on 25 October 25. No resin lysimeters were installed at NWRF and SERF.

Stand counts were taken in plots the mid-November at all three field locations. Drill seeded rye at all locations had not emerged so stand counts and biomass were not evaluated. Stand counts in the broadcast treatments ranged from ~280,000 to 720,000 plants/acre in the low seed rate treatment (target of 1,000,000 PLS/acre) to 480,000 to 1,800,000 plants/acre in the high seeding rate treatment (1,670,000 PLS/acre).

PIs Arbuckle, Licht and Robertson met in December to discuss the proposed survey of farmers regarding seeding rates and seeding methods. IDALS recently conducted their own survey collecting this data, and it was decided to collaborate with them. They will share their data, which researchers will analyze and summarize.

September 2018

  • Two staff and a graduate student have been placed on the project 
  • All collaborators met in July to discuss procedures and data that need to be collected. 
  • Field locations for the trials were identified at the ISU Northwest Research and Demonstration Farm, Sutherland, Iowa, the Ag Engineering Agronomy Research Farm, Boone, Iowa, and the Southeast Research and Demonstration Farm, Crawfordsville, IA. 
  • Plot layouts were generated and Elbon cereal rye secured. 
  • Broadcast cereal rye treatments were planted in mid-September at all locations. Drill-seeded cereal rye treatments will be planted soon after soybean harvest, which was delayed due to above normal precipitation in September.
  • The McDaniel lab prepared resin lysimeters for installation after soybean harvest.