Kura clover can be integrated into current forage and row-cropping systems as a perennial cover crop, also known as a living mulch. Kura clover living mulch (KCLM) systems are an effective soil and water conservation tool and can increase the flexibility of Midwestern farming systems; as a perennial, it can be used to produce high protein forage one year, and the next year as a living mulch for annual row-crop production. While there are numerous environmental and practical benefits associated with continuous living cover, there are still agronomic and economic challenges in establishing and managing a KCLM system that limits adoption by producers who could otherwise benefit from this innovative conservation cropping system.
The main barriers to producer adoption of KCLM systems are 1) the long establishment period to develop a vigorous stand, 2) working width, horsepower requirements, and availability of equipment to effectively manage the living mulch system, and 3) the limited understanding of nitrogen (N) cycling in these systems, how it is affected by management practices, and how that translates to in-season fertilizer N recommendations.
Addressing these limitations is necessary to mitigate the risks taken on by early adopters and to promote its use in Midwestern commodity production systems. To address the lengthy establishment period, we will test the proposition that seeding kura clover into a mature alfalfa stand will both bolster forage yields and reduce establishment costs by allowing for forage harvest during the transition from a pure alfalfa stand to a pure kura stand. To reduce management barriers after the clover is well established, we will test the effectiveness of newly available cover crop residue management tools and strip tillage implements for maize production in KCLM. To strengthen fertilizer N management recommendations for maize production in KCLM, we will investigate biomass decomposition and nitrogen cycling affected by residue incorporation and fertilizer N application.
These projects fall under the title Removing the Barriers to Adoption of Kura Clover Living Mulch Systems. This work will be included in my dissertation, academic publications, extension articles, and monthly blog posts on the online AgTalk message board. This project will produce important management information for innovative stewards, producers, and conservationists and reduce the risks taken on by early adopters. The outreach efforts included in this research will introduce this system to the Midwestern landscape and this research will provide relevant information for farmers to make educated management decisions.
Project objectives from proposal:
Through this research and dissemination of its results through scientific publications, popular literature, field days, farm shows, and agricultural forums, producers will gain practical management information required to manage KCLM systems for maize and forage production. This research will improve the awareness of KCLM systems as a potential option for conservation management in the Midwest. We hope that this research will shift the attitudes regarding KCLM systems from a niche conservation tool to a practical agronomic solution. In doing so, this system has the potential to benefit a wide audience of producers, and with its adoption, provide valuable environmental benefits.
With the removal of the barriers to adoption of KCLM systems, producers will more easily and more confidently shift their management to this system or other holistic conservation management strategies. Even if a small number of producers are willing to make this dramatic shift, other farms in their neighborhood will observe these practices in action and be more likely to consider them for their operations. Reflection on the concepts and approaches that this research investigates and utilizes will result in greater adoption of KCLM and other conservation management strategies for Midwestern row-crop production systems.