Evaluating the Use of Forage Radish to Enhance Winter Rye Cover Crop Performance

2016 Annual Report for GNE14-091

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2014: $14,998.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Sid Bosworth
University of Vermont

Evaluating the Use of Forage Radish to Enhance Winter Rye Cover Crop Performance


As farmers in the northeast are faced with an ever mounting pressure (and desire) to protect water quality, increase soil health, and maintain productive and sustainable farms; they are increasingly turning to cover crops as a way to accomplish these goals. By far the most common cover crop utilized by dairy and forage crop farmers in Vermont is winter rye seeded after corn silage. With our short growing seasons, winter rye has become a dependable cover crop to provide good erosion control and nutrient cycling. However, as more producers become aware of alternative cover crop species and mixtures of species, they are asking to know more about their choices and what the potential benefits may be to planting these alternative crops. This study is evaluating whether the addition of forage radish to a winter rye cover crop could augment and enhance the performance over winter rye by itself. In addition, it will quantify the economic impacts of this combination and basic agronomic recommendations for seeding rates and establishment methods.

This field experiment will occur on two farms over the course of two seasons. Plots were no-till drilled and broadcast after timely corn silage harvest and then received one application of liquid dairy manure immediately after planting. Measurements occurred the fall after planting and the subsequent spring. Results will be shared with farmers and ag service providers in Vermont and around the northeast. There is a large Extension/outreach component to this project. This project is part of a larger USDA-NIFA project

Objectives/Performance Targets

Objective 1: Determine the effects of combining forage radish with winter rye cover crops and evaluate if the addition of forage radish has impacts on: overall performance of the cover crop, improved nutrient uptake and enhanced ecosystem services.

Progress to date:  Spring data was collected from the 2015-2016 plots.  This included percent cover, plant height, biomass yield, plant tissue mineral analysis, soil nitrogen, regular soil chemistry analysis, soil temperature, air temperature, soil moisture, soil compaction and pictures.  Preliminary analysis shows that planting method has more impact on cover crop performance than the presence/absence of the forage radish.  However, more analysis will happen in the following months to dig into that data.

Objective 2: Establish the proper seeding rates and planting methods for a forage radish/winter rye cover crop in a corn silage system with manure.

Progress to date:  All plots had good emergence and establishment in Fall 2015.  With a mild fall and winter, spring results were good for all plots.  Again, initial analysis of data seems to show that when planted well, in early to mid-September, all three rates of winter rye (with and without radish) performed similarly.  If further investigation finds this to be valid, lower seeding rates could be recommended when planting under these conditions.

Objective 3: Quantify the economic impact of different cover crop treatments, both seeding rates/composition and application methods.

Progress to date:  Seed cost data and establishment costs are being monitored.  Once final data is completely processed and analyzed, we will be able to compare the economic ramifications of those results in conjunction with costs of cover crop establishment for each treatment.

Objective 4: Promote and increase the use of cover crops and share project findings through direct farmer outreach with field days, newsletter articles, social media, Extension fact sheets and presentations. Provide research-based data to support of modify existing cover cropping specifications being used by technical service providers and cost share funding agencies.

Progress to date:  Spring 2016 marked the end of the field research portion of this project.    In 2016 we were able to continue providing outreach in the following ways:

  • Project information was shared with the 175 attendees (75 were farmers) at the 2016 Vermont No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium. Project Coordinator, Kirsten Workman, presented work from this project and other cover cropping projects in her presentation titled, “Multi-Species Cover Crop Mixtures”.  (February 2016|Burlington, Vt.)
  • A similar presentation was given at the New England Certified Crop Adviser In-service hosted by University of Maine Extension faculty and staff. Roughly 60 CCAs and University/Extension professionals attend this regional event.  (February 2016|Portsmouth, NH)
  • A Cover Crop Field Day was held at the research plots located on Vorsteveld Farm. Eighteen (18) total attendees participated in the event which included seven (7) farmers and eleven (11) service providers, agency staff, and university faculty/staff.  We discussed the project and focused a lot of the discussion on soil health and the difference between the broadcast plots and those that were drilled.  An event summary and handouts from the field day are attached. (April 2016 | Panton, Vt.) Event Summary_CCFieldDay_Vorst_Spring 2016
  • A Cover Crop Field Day for Technical Service Providers was held in May. The field day was held at three different research projects, in four different fields at two different farms.  One of the farms/fields was the research plots for this project at the Clifford Farm.  In addition, NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant projects dealing with cover cropping, compaction and soil health were also highlighted.  Twenty-three (23) people attended.  Because this field day was specifically targeted to technical service providers, they made up the majority of attendees (22).    Many NRCS and Vermont Agency of Agriculture staff, alongside local agricultural business representatives were able to have a good training looking at effective ways to implement innovative approaches to cover cropping.  An event summary and handouts from the field day are attached. (May 2016 | Middlebury and Starksboro, Vt.) Event Summary_CCFieldDay_TSP_Spring 2016
  • Jeff Carter, project participant/advisor, presented results from this project at a USDA National Institute for Agriculture professional development meeting in Virginia. The majority of this project is funded through USDA-NIFA project and Mr. Carter was presenting the work from that project, titled “Sustaining Rural Farm Communities in Vermont” (USDA-NIFA Award 2014-68006-21864). This project comprised roughly 25% of that presentation. (September 2016 | Virginia)


The final field work was completed in Spring 2016.  Mild fall/winter weather resulted in good growth in all plots.  In fact, it may have meant less difference between treatments.  All field work was completed as planned.  See the timeline below for the activities completed by date.  We were fortunate this year to add some additional data.  At the Vorsteveld site, we were offered the opportunity to keep the plots flagged and intact after the cover crop was terminated and corn was planted.  The field is under no-till management, so it was easy to leave flags, let the farmer ‘plant green’ through the cover crop residue before terminating the cover crop with herbicide and maintain the integrity of the treatments.  Later in the season, the Project Coordinator, mowed corn plants down around the outside of the research blocks.  This enabled us to monitor corn crop growth and find plots.  Right before harvest, the farmer opened the field for us and we were able to quickly grab hand sampled corn yield data from three select treatments: negative control, 112 pounds per acre winter rye drilled and 85 pounds rye and 3 pounds radish per acre drilled.  The farmer did not get a very effective termination of the cover crop in the spring, allowing the rye to mature past the boot stage and he feared competition with his corn crop.  By measuring yields, we were able to quantify if that was indeed true. In the end, we think it may have impacted maturity (or date at which the corn reached 35% dry matter for harvest), but did not impact ultimate yield.  In essence, the corn in the cover cropped plots ‘caught up’ with the corn in the control plots from a yield standpoint, but experienced delayed dry down.

The only major change to the project, other than those already mentioned in the 2015 report (changing the second farm project partner and manure not being applied to plots at the Clifford farm), was the request and subsequent approval for a no-cost extension changing the end date from 8/31/16 to 2/28/17.  This request was made as submission and billing for forage and soil samples was not complete and there were still funds left in the grant fund.  This allowed us to also have more time to analyze data and be more thorough in reporting and billing.  One other change, is that the Project Coordinator has delayed thesis defense, and hopes to defend in Spring 2017. 

Overall the project is progressed well in 2016.  Field work is completed and all data points are entered.  Statistical analysis has started, and will be the focus as the project comes to completion.  This project is the Master’s Thesis for the Project Coordinator.  The revised goal is for the thesis defense to be in Spring 2017.  The Project Director intends to present findings from this project at the 2017 Vermont No-Till & Cover Crop Symposium as well as possibly submit an abstract to a national conference for a presentation (NACAA or ASA).  This project has already proven to be a great catalyst for further research and demonstration projects. 

Below is a summary of work in 2016.

 Spring 2016

Jan./Feb.:            Data entry and analysis

16-Feb:                 Vermont No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium presentation

9-Mar:                  Relaunched air temperature data loggers at Vorsteveld site

14- Mar:               Relaunched air temperature data loggers at Clifford site

14-Apr:                 Collected soil nitrogen samples, soil temperatures (2” and 4.5”), soil moisture (Vorst)

15-Apr:                 Collected percent cover, height, soil moisture, compaction, biomass samples (Vorst)

18-Apr:                 Collected soil moisture, compaction (Cliff)

19-Apr:                 Collected percent cover, height, biomass, temperature and soil nitrogen (Cliff)

21-Apr:                 Cover Crop Field Day at Vorsteveld (Panton) site

28-Apr:                 Collected percent cover, height, soil moisture, compaction (Vorst)

29-Apr:                 Collected soil analysis, soil temperature, biomass, and soil nitrogen (Vorst)

3-May:                  Collected soil moisture, compaction data (Cliff)

3-May:                  Cover Crop Field Day for TSPs at Clifford (Starksboro) site

6-May:                  Collected soil analysis, percent cover, height, soil temperature, biomass and soil nitrogen (Cliff)

June/July:            All forage samples inventoried, sent to lab for tissue analysis (crude protein (N), Phosphorus, Potassium).  Mowed paths into corn field and checked/fixed flags in order to find plots at corn harvest.  Also started data entry and analysis for Year 2 data.

Fall 2016

12-Sep:                 Collected corn yield samples from three treatments – negative control, 112 pounds/acre (drilled), 85 pounds rye/3 pounds radish (drilled)

19-Sep:                 Jeff Carter presents at USDA-NIFA meeting

Sep. – Dec:          Data entry, statistical analysis, reporting.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

This project is part of a larger effort within UVM Extension’s Champlain Valley Crop, Soil & Pasture team investigating cover cropping strategies in Vermont.  The work has been well received, and farmers are utilizing the information to better apply cover cropping as a conservation practice on their farms.  This is definitely having an impact in the farming community in Addison, Chittenden & Rutland counties of Vermont (and beyond).  One tangible benefit of this (and other) research and demonstration projects has been the visibility of having on-farm trials.  It has enabled us to host field days and take pictures and other documentation of how cover cropping works on ‘real farms’ in Vermont with local soils, climates, cropping systems and conditions.  In addition, having projects that are replicated over multiple years, has enabled us to assess how different cover cropping systems/methods/species perform with different weather conditions.  One direct impact this year happened as a result of one of the field days held at the research site located in Panton (Vorsteveld Farm).  A local farmer, who had not been cover cropping, attended the field day.  His take-home was that drilling cover crops was superior to broadcasting them on the soil surface and that planting in a timely manner was important for effective establishment.  He had signed up for 30 acres of cover cropping incentive payments through NRCS-EQIP, as he was reluctant to use the practice on the whole farm.  He contracts out his corn harvest to a custom harvester, so he typically plants the farm’s 100+ acres of corn silage to all the same days relative maturity (DRM) corn.  After seeing the results of the research plots drilled in early September, he adjusted his DRM to a shorter day hybrid for the 30 acres enrolled in EQIP and then allowed UVM Extension agronomy outreach professionals to use that 30 acres to plant demonstration strips of various combinations of winter rye, oats and forage radish using our no-till grain drill.   I am happy to be participating in research that has been so well received by the farmers implementing these practices.

Some examples of outreach materials that were developed this year are included below.  It should be noted that these were also reported on under other grants funded by a Vermont NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (69-1644-13-5) and USDA-NIFA (2014-68006-21864) and were not specific to just this project.  However, the work performed under this project most definitely contributed to their development:

Across the Fence Episodes

The work from cover crop projects was highlighted in five different Across the Fence episodes. Across the Fence, a 15-minute program produced by University of Vermont Extension, is the longest running daily farm and home television program in the country. The program airs weekdays at 12:10 pm on WCAX TV, Channel 3.  ATF producers did a series of episodes highlighting UVM Extension work addressing agriculture and water quality.  The episodes that highlighted this project were:

1/28/16:    Water Quality and Research by UVM Extension  (https://youtu.be/smymSsFlsqM)  

2/8/16:      Making an Impact: UVM Extension’s Work in Water Quality Improvement                                                       (https://youtu.be/WkdvAzh7CYE)  

2/18/16:     Making an Impact: UVM Extension’s Work in Water Quality (https://youtu.be/bYPLAc-b2MI)  

7/5/16:       Making an Impact: Improving Water Qaulity with Innovative Approaches to Planting Corn                           (https://youtu.be/-COxFsv8GdY)  

9/6/16:       On the Farm: UVM Extension’s Research to Improve Water Quality (Part 2)                                                                       (https://youtu.be/S7RELaa_e1s)  

Vermont Public Radio

A general story about cover cropping (and radishes), featuring Kirsten Workman, was featured on Vermont Public Radio on January 29, 2016.  The article and recording are here: http://digital.vpr.net/post/farmers-embrace-cover-crops-improve-soil-reduce-runoff#stream/0

Cover Crop Outreach Materials





Jeffrey Carter

Agronomy Specialist: Field Crops & Nutrient Management
UVM Extension
23 Pond Lane, Suite 300
Middlebury, VT 05753
Office Phone: 8023884969
Website: http://www.uvm.edu/extension/cvcrops
Eric Clifford

Clifford Farm
6147 VT Route 116
Starksboro, VT 05487
Office Phone: 8024343810
Gerard Vorsteveld

Vorsteveld Family Farm
Jersey Street
Panton, VT 05491
Dr. Sidney Bosworth

Extension Professor
University of Vermont
208 Jeffords Hall
63 Carrigan Drive
Burlington, VT 05405
Office Phone: 8026560478
Website: http://pss.uvm.edu/vtcrops/