Developing Corn Silage Systems to Meet the Needs of Cover Crops

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2018: $196,108.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2021
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Heather Darby
University of Vermont Extension

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, rye


  • Crop Production: cover crops, cropping systems
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance, workshop
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and justification 

    Farmers have been rapidly adopting cover cropping, increasing in Vermont alone from 14,000 to 28,000 acres in one year. This interest is fueled in the desire to address field issues, mitigate environmental damage, and ultimately gain economic benefits. The existing set of cover crop resources focus primarily on the cover crop itself, without acknowledging additional factors in the production system. In order to increase access to cover crops and their full benefit, farmers need strategies that address the entire production system. Therefore, this project seeks to identify best practices for corn silage production that result in successful establishment of interseeded cover crops. 

    Solution and approach 

    To help farmers reap the benefits of diversified cover crop mixtures in northern New England, corn silage practices must be altered. Three major factors that need to be balanced in order for interseeding to be successful are corn plant characteristics, agronomics, and environmental conditions. Corn silage varieties need to be evaluated for their physical structure (leaf and ear architecture), to better allow light penetration and cover crop growth, and relative maturity, to allow more time for cover crop growth without corn competition. As for agronomics, row spacing and corn populations, which have typically shifted to increase number of plants per acre, need to be evaluated for maintaining yield while also allowing for more cover crop growth. In addition, residual herbicide effect on cover crop needs to be addressed to prevent inhibiting cover crop growth. In order to establish cover crop, adequate soil moisture, light infiltration, and temperature are necessary. While certain corn varieties may improve light availability, the timing of cover crop planting will also play a large role in providing the right environmental conditions for growth. Cover crop planting dates will also be evaluated.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Twenty-five farmers will modify a corn silage practice, improve establishment of a cover crop, improve soil health ratings from medium to high, or report yield increases of 2 tons per acre on 500 acres of corn silage.

    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.