Getting the most out of cover crops: How timing of termination influences soil health, pest control, and improved crop production

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2014: $222,694.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2018
Grant Recipient: The Pennsylvania State University
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Dr. Heather Karsten
The Pennsylvania State University

Annual Reports

Information Products

Planting Green 101 (Bulletin)


  • Agronomic: corn, rye, soybeans


  • Crop Production: continuous cropping, cover crops, no-till
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: cultural control, integrated pest management, mulches - killed
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: green manures, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    No-till cover crop systems (NTCCS) provide multiple benefits to agroecosystems. Fortunately, their adoption has been increasing in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, presenting unique agronomic and pest management challenges. In particular, cover crops (CCs) terminated in spring prior to planting of the cash crop create covercrop residue that: i) conserves soil moisture often leading to poor seed placement and coverage, ii) provides ideal habitat for slugs, the dominant invertebrate pest in no-till systems, and iii) interferes with planting equipment; all contributing to reduced establishment and yield of the cash crop. We have observed these problems in our Sustainable Dairy Cropping Systems project and farmers frequently request advice about controlling slugs, which annually damage about 20% of Mid-Atlantic not-till acreage. Addressing these spring cover crop termination challenges has the potential to significantly enhance the productivity, sustainability and adoption of NTCCS in the Northeast. The experience of some PA No-till Alliance farmers and our NTCCS research indicates that terminating cover crops at or close to planting the cash crop (i.e., “planting green”) can: i) reduce soil moisture and improve soil conditions for seed placement; and ii) reduce slug herbivory and weed establishment; thereby enhancing crop establishment and yields. Planting green can also protect soil, improve soil health, and reduce costs associated with early cover crop termination. In this project, we will compare planting green to terminating cover crops at 14 days or more prior to planting corn and soybean on two research farms and three commercial farms that routinely plant green. We will assess soil moisture and temperature; seed depth and coverage; CC residue or live biomass and C:N ratio; slug, insects (pest and beneficial), and weed populations; slug damage to CCs and cash crops; and cash crop populations and yields to evaluate the potential benefits of planting green. Working with our cooperating farmers, who are members of the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance (our target audience), we will present the results of this research at field days hosted at all five farm locations and the NESARE Sustainable Dairy Cropping System project, as well as through extension meetings, conferences, and workshops; an educational website, and scientific meetings.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Fifty farmers on 10,000 acres will delay cover-crop termination in spring until no-till crop planting, and accrue benefits in at least one of the following five areas: reduction of slug damage, improved soil-moisture for seed placement, improved weed control, increased cover crop biomass for soil protection, better crop establishment.

    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.