Field-Scale Evaluation of Corn Response to Nitrogen Fertilizer Application Timing following a Rye Cover Crop

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $14,740.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Purdue University
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Daniel Quinn
Purdue University
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Shalamar Armstrong
Purdue University


  • Agronomic: corn


  • Crop Production: cover crops, fertilizers, no-till, nutrient management
  • Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research

    Proposal abstract:

    Previous research has documented rye cover crop (RCC) benefits on weed suppression, erosion control, water quality improvement, and organic matter contributions. Yet, RCC adoption is often low prior to corn, suggesting further research and extension needs to be conducted to develop and disseminate corn management recommendations following a RCC. Therefore, the proposed objective of this study is to evaluate corn growth, yield, and nutrient uptake responses to different N fertilizer application timings following a RCC using multiple field-scale research environments. The outcomes of this study include: development of corn N fertilizer timing recommendations following a RCC, development of resources to train and disseminate educational information to farmers and crop consultants across the North Central SARE region, and reduced RCC hesitancy prior to corn. The treatments within this study include: RCC and no cover crop and N fertilizer applied at a rate of 44 kg N ha-1 in a 2 inches to the side, 2 inches below the seed (2x2) starter at planting + remaining N fertilizer sidedressed at the V5 growth stage, a 2x2 starter + remaining N fertilizer sidedressed between the corn rows at the V10 growth stage, and a 2x2 starter + V5 sidedress + V10 sidedress. This study will be conducted across entire farm fields using commercial equipment at three locations across Indiana to enhance result applicability to North Central region farmers. Data collection will include: soil N analysis throughout the corn growing season, RCC total biomass, carbon and N analysis, corn stand assessment, corn plant biomass and N uptake analysis at growth stages R1 and R6, and corn ear samples for grain yield component examination. Furthermore, NDVI imagery will be collected every two weeks using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to assess spatial plant responses regarding treatment applications. By developing N fertilizer timing recommendations following a RCC, farmers will be able to adopt more efficient fertilizer management practices, optimize corn production following a RCC and be more likely to implement RCC prior to corn planting. Results from this study will provide direct, applicable information to North Central SARE region farmers to reduce corn yield losses following a RCC, RCC hesitancy, and allow a RCC to be implemented consecutively in farmers cropping rotations.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Since 2012, cover crop use in the Midwest prior to corn production has been steadily increasing. However, adoption often remains low compared to total corn production acres. Low adoption is often driven by a lack of knowledge regarding proper agronomic management of corn within a cover crop system and producer hesitancy caused by reduced crop yields. Rye cover crop use is popular and is often the only cover crop choice for farmers due to germination success, biomass production, and survival. A RCC can provide environmental benefits such as reduced soil erosion, scavenging of excess N, and suppression of weeds. However, limited knowledge has been gathered on proper agronomic management techniques specific to corn following a RCC. Developing knowledge and skills on appropriate agronomic management of corn following a RCC could help change the attitude of RCC hesitant farmers and lead to an increased adoption of this sustainable practice. Therefore, the outcomes of this study are to identify N fertilizer application timing methods on a field scale using commercial farm equipment that will help reduce corn N stress and yield loss following a RCC. In addition, educational and extension materials will be developed and presented to help train, improve overall knowledge, and influence producer behavior. Behavioral changes will be tracked using extension meeting and field training surveys and scheduled consultations with a farmer advisory committee. The accomplishment of our outcomes will help educate farmers, certified crop advisors, government agency officers, and agricultural professionals in the North-Central Region and reduce RCC hesitancy.

    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.