Establishing Cover Crops at Time of Corn Planting: Determining Soil - Water Quality Benefits

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2001: $94,790.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Federal Funds: $56,400.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $10,500.00
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Paul Salon

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, hay


  • Animal Production: manure management, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: cover crops, intercropping, multiple cropping, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: competition, smother crops
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    ilage corn has been identified by the USDA-NRCS, Natural Resources Conservation Service, as one of the most significant sources of soil erosion and agricultural related water quality problems in the Northeast. Silage corn does not leave enough crop residue to provide cover over the winter or allow for adequate cover necessary for the effective use of conservation tillage practices in the spring. Runoff and leaching of fertilizer, manure and pesticides lead to water quality problems. These problems can be very costly to remedy and can lead to human health problems. Cover crops have long been used with row crops to reduce soil erosion, add organic matter and nitrogen, improve soil tilth, recycle nutrients, and for weed suppression. The use of cover crops specifically alfalfa is known to improve productivity by breaking up compacted soil layers caused by heavy farm equipment. The establishment of cover crops immediately following the harvest of silage corn has been a problem due to the late harvest and short growing season in the Northeast. Aerial seeding of cereal rye and ryegrass during corn tasseling can be partially successful but is dependent on, adequate soil moisture and the degree of compaction and crusting of the soil surface. Interseeding cover crops, when the corn is 12-18 inches tall, after cultivation, and band application of herbicides is an option. This practice has had mixed results due to soil and weather conditions. Due to the limited use of cultivation and band spraying and a relatively narrow window of opportunity to cultivate and seed, this practice has not been widely accepted. An alternative establishment method needs to be developed which can be done efficiently and incorporated into existing operations using conventional equipment. A method is being developed to seed cover crops at time of corn planting.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    1) Out of 30 farmers that participated in cover crop demonstrations 15 will continue to apply cover crops on their own using this system on one field per year for three years after completion of the project.

    Out of 35 farmers that participated 5 farmers put on significant acreage at there own expense. An additional 8 farmers tried a second or third demonstration on small acreage using the supplies provided by the SARE grant. Some of the problems with this system as reported by farmers is poor weed control for late germinating grasses like fall panicum and crabgrass, getting custom applicators to spray small acreages of imidizolinone herbicides and to spray them at the appropriate times. Applying a too heavy seeding rate is a common problem which can lead to additional competition from the cover crop.

    2) Out of 25 farmers 5 will be willing to use their farms for a field day stop or write a testimonial on their experience with the system in a local SWCD or extension newsletter.

    Eight farms were used for field days and extension tours. Empire Farm Days was used for 3 years giving opportunity for 1000’s of farmers to view the system. Tours were also given at Cornell’s Field Days in Aurora attended by farmers and agency personnel. Tours were given at Big Flats Plant Materials Center to many NRCS personnel as well as some farmers and other agency personnel. The Steve Stocking Farm which was used both in my grant as well as a farmer grant was featured in an article in the May 2005 publication “Farming: The Journal of Northeast Agriculture.”

    3) Out of seven agency people involved in project 4 will instruct dairy farmers on their own on the use of this system resulting in cover crop plantings.

    There were seven agency or consultants that instructed dairy farmers on this system. Due to the technical intricacy of the system this was more of a collaborative effort than a totally independent effort on their part. There continues to be an interest in the utilization of this system by other agency personnel based on continued contacts.

    4) Research to be carried out according to proc

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.