This farmer-driven proposal builds on a 2015 NC SARE (FNC15-1018) funded project to Mr. Ralph Upton Jr. entitled “Utilizing precision application of cover crops to minimize planting challenges while maximizing benefits to corn”. Although only funded for one year at 1 site, Upton and a local consultant have continued the precision cover crop trial for 4 years without outside funding, due to the positive and interesting results observed and great interests from growers in Illinois and neighboring states. They have identified production advantages of up to 50 bu/acre with precision planting of cover crop species and mixes planted in various placement in relation to the corn row, compared to no cover crop, no-till treatments. This proposal aims to answer some growers questions including (1) does corn yield benefits at Upton’s farm expand to other soil types/environments?; (2) does a 6-yr precision planted cover crop mixtures improve soil health?; and (3) what are the economic benefits of this system? Integrating this research with outreach approaches including hosting on-farm field days, writing a fact sheet being integrated into student’s course material, and presenting at regional/national meeting, this project will increase cover crop adoption before corn and improve sustainability of corn-soybean cropping systems.
The objective of this proposal is to evaluate the effectiveness of precision planting cover crop mixtures (skipping the corn row or planting winter-killed cover crops on the row) vs. cover crop mixtures (no skipped rows) before corn in a corn-soybean cropping system to:
- Evaluate soil health benefits of precision planted cover crops using a medium-term trial
- Quantify cover crop performance
- Assess corn performance and quantify the end of season N following corn harvest
- Evaluate the economics of each cropping system
- Demonstrate soil health and economic benefits through on-farm research and novel outreach methods
Experimental locations and treatments:
In 2020, two on-farm trials were initiated (Pike and Upton Jr.’s farms). The third trial was not initiated due to late harvest in Seidel farm but instead, a rye-clover mixture trial was started in Carbondale, IL. For the two on-farm trials, five treatments were: (1) no-CC control (2) skipping the corn row, vetch beside the corn row, winter-rye-annual ryegrass-vetch mixture on the middle rows (3) oat/radishes mix on the corn row, vetch on the row besides corn, winter-rye-annual ryegrass-vetch mixture on the middle rows (4) skipping the corn row, crimson clover beside the corn row, winter-rye-annual ryegrass-crimson clover mixture on the middle rows (5) oat/radishes mix on the corn row, crimson clover on the row besides corn, winter-rye-annual ryegrass-crimson clover mixture on the middle rows. The trial in Carbondale, IL has clover alone, clover mixed with rye, and clover on corn row and rye in the middle rows (precision planted).
Cover crop samples (3 samplings of 0.2 m2 area (6 ft2) will be taken in spring prior to burndown. In Carbondale, we sampled cover crops prior to frost. Cover crop samples will be analyzed to determine (i) N uptake and (ii) C/N ratio. Corn grain will be planted in each site and will be managed by farmer standard practices. After combine harvesting, corn yield will be determined and corn grain will be analyzed for nutrient removal.
Typical Soil Measurements:
Prior to planting cover crops, we soil sampled. Soil samples were collected (0-2, 2-8” depths) to determine soil pH and general soil fertility. We are also processing samples to run for permanganate oxidizable C (POXC) as an indicator sensitive to short-term soil changes for all farms. Prior to planting cover crops, used a deep core sampler to sample soil at 0-2, 2-8, and 8-36” depths to evaluate soil C and N. After harvesting corn, similar sampling will be performed to estimate soil C and also N leaching potential in study sites.
Soil Health from Upton Jr. Farm:
In year two at Upton Jr. farm (long-term study), we proposed to evaluate soil health for each cover cropping system (3 replications). In 2020, soil samples are taken from three treatments at in and out of the row (corn row vs. cover crop rows) at 0-2 and 2-8” to assess soil aggregation and aggregate stability, aggregate associated C and N, and soil enzymes along with typical soil fertility and POXC. Also, soil compaction as well as soil bulk density will be measured for three depths (0-2, 2-8, and 8-36”); latter will allow us to evaluate soil C stocks over depths. In fall 2021, we will measure those proposed measurements along with infiltration at 0-2” depth. These measurements will be done in Sadeghpour’s Laboratory or by commercial labs.
The trials will be conducted on-farm which is the best form of outreach due to increased peer-to-peer interactions. We will share the results with growers in multiple ways including two field days in 2021. We have initiated writing a factsheet on use of precision mixed cover cropping which will become a part of the Soil Fertility & Fertilizes Course (CSEM/PSAS 447) at SIU-C. We have initiated a “school to farm” approach to bring novel ideas through our students to farms. We expect to publish at least one peer-reviewed journal article. We are partnering with Illinois Farm Bureau and especially Lauren Lurkins (Director of Research for Natural Resources in Illinois) and Austin Omer to reach as many growers as possible.
We have just begun the trials in Fall 2020 and we have submitted soil samples to other labs for general soil fertility. We are also processing soil samples for aggregate distribution and stability, enzyme activity, and POXC. From the proof of concept trials that we based on proposal on, we have published a peer-reviewed journal article:
Sadeghpour, A., Adeyemi, O., Hunter, D., Luo, Y., & Armstrong, S. 2021. Precision planting impacts on winter cereal rye growth, nutrient uptake, spring soil temperature and adoption cost. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1742170520000411
In this paper, we discussed precision planting of winter cereal rye vs. normal planting and that reducing seeding rates in precision planting improved farm economics while providing the same nutrient loss reduction benefits.
We have also presented those results in North Central Extension-Industry Conference in De MOINES, IW.
Sadeghpour, A., Adeyemi, D. Hunter, Y. Luo, S. Armstrong. 2020. Precision planting impacts on winter cereal rye growth, nutrient uptake, spring soil temperature, and adoption cost. North Central Extension-Industry Conference, De Moines, IW (Virtual), Nov. 18-19 (Abstract).
Educational & Outreach Activities
The trials will be conducted on-farm which is the best form of outreach due to increased peer-to-peer interactions. We will share the results with growers in multiple ways including two field days each year at two of the farms, writing a factsheet on use of precision mixed cover cropping which will become a part of the Soil Fertility & Fertilizes Course (CSEM/PSAS 447) at SIU-C. We have initiated a “school to farm” approach to bring novel ideas through our students to farms. We expect to publish at least one peer-reviewed journal article. We will partner with Illinois Farm Bureau and especially Lauren Lurkins (Director of Research for Natural Resources in Illinois) to reach as many growers as possible.
At the moment, we are working on a cover crop fact sheet and are planning to set up field days for demonstration of precision cover crop mixtures.
Growers involved in this projects are well-known among farming community in Illinois. So far, three presentations are scheduled to happen:
- Spring cover crop meeting in Boonville, Indiana (3/2/2021) – Presenter: Mr. John Pike
- Zoom training on cover crops (3/4/2021) – Presenter: Mr. John Pike (25 Ag retailers)
- Interview with USDA-NRCS in Illinois (3/5/2021) – Presenter: Mr. Ralph Upton Jr.
On-farm trials will be conducted with 4 replications to establish the ecosystem benefits of precision cover cropping including soil health, and farm profitability. An agronomy factsheet (on precision cover crop mixtures) and a journal article will be written. We will host two field days to showcase precision cover crop mixtures and share results with growers. Two previous field days at the Upton Farm had 120 and 200 participants so regional interest of the precision planted cover crops is high and the ability to provide scientific documentation to support previous agronomic findings will be of interest to a large number of farmers from IL and surrounding states. To evaluate if percentage of cover cropping and especially precision cover cropping is increased, we will pre-survey growers to assess their perception of precision cover crop mixtures prior to corn and then we will post-survey growers in field days and also conduct a follow up postcard survey (50 farmers). This was delayed due to COVID but we will conduct the surveys in our first field day. We have initiated training an undergraduate student (Justin Berberich). Justin (coming from farming family) is transitioning to a Masters program in our lab after May 2021.