- Agronomic: hay, sorghum (milo), wheat
- Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, cropping systems, no-till
- Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
- Production Systems: dryland farming
- Soil Management: soil quality/health
Cover Crop Management Options to Improve Weed Control, Crop Yield and Soil Health
Integrating cover crops (CC) into dryland crop production in the central Great Plains (CGP) can provide several benefits. These benefits include reduced soil erosion, improved nutrient cycling, suppression of herbicideresistant (HR) weeds, enhanced crop profitability and improved soil health. Despite these benefits and growers' interest in using CC to improved soil health and suppress HR weeds, CC adoption is slow and not widely popular in the CGP because CC utilizes water that otherwise would be available to the subsequent cash crop. Grazing or haying CC can provide economic benefits to offset revenue loss associated with decreased crop yields when CC are grown ahead of a cash crop. This approach could provide an opportunity for dryland producers to build soil health and produce harvestable forage for livestock. Limited published information exists on impacts of utilizing CC for forage on weed control, soil health and crop yields in semiarid dryland (non-irrigated) systems. This research and education project will provide critical and immediate information to address producer questions on sustainable use of CC for forage while improving weed control and maintaining soil health in the region. Field experiments will be conducted on-farm and university experimental fields to investigate forage production potential, water use, weed suppression and cash crop yield penalties associated with growing CC in place of chemical fallow. Impact of CC management strategy on HR weed seed bank and population dynamics, soil organic carbon (SOC), and other soil quality parameters will be quantified. Incorporating CC into wheat-based production systems has the potential to diversify markets (particularly when grown for forage), improve HR weed control, enhance soil health and crop productivity. In addition, on-farm component of the project will be used to initiate formation of a CC producer network group for western Kansas. The group will meet annually to facilitate farmer-to-farmer learning experience and adoption of CC in the region. Increased adoption of CC by dryland producers will enhance residue cover to reduce susceptibility of farmlands to wind erosion, build and maintain soil health, and increase farm productivity. The above outcomes have potential to increase the sustainability and profitability of dryland crop production and enhance the quality of life for western Kansas producers through improved farm income, which is consistent with the broad-based outcomes of the NCR-SARE program.
Project objectives from proposal:
This project will investigate and provide information on forage production potential of CC and quantify impacts of removing CC for forage on weed suppression, crop yields and soil health. An outcome of this project is establishment of CC producer network group for western Kansas. We anticipate the producer network will facilitate farmer-to-farmer learning, increase grower knowledge and understanding of sustainable CC management options to improve crop productivity and soil health in dryland systems. Adoption of CC by dryland producers should reduce herbicide applications for weed control, reduce wind erosion, suppress weeds, improve soil health, increase profitability and environmental quality.