Using Durana Clover as a Living Mulch in an Integrated Corn and Livestock Production System

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2013: $224,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2017
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Nicholas Hill
University of Georiga

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: grazing - rotational
  • Crop Production: cover crops, cropping systems, intercropping, no-till
  • Natural Resources/Environment: drift/runoff buffers, soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, soil analysis
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures


    A comparison of row spacing, spray band pattern, and population density was compared using field corn grown in the second year of the living mulch (LM) system.  Corn yields and clover re-establishment were greatest in narrow band and wide row treatments.  Soil water content was less in LM compared to other cover crops, but nitrate leaching was lower in LM.  Runoff, erosion, and nutrient loss was less in watersheds planted to (LM) compared to cereal rye.   Interest in the project has been broad, including producers, other researchers, food industry groups, and politicians.

    Project objectives:

    Objective 1: Identify the best row spacing, population density, and clover suppression combination for sweet corn production.  Rationale for objective: The living mulch system for corn production provides obvious advantages to field corn production by suppressing weeds and providing biologically fixed nitrogen fertilizer.  The savings are not only from reduced fertilizer and weed control cost, but we calculated labor inputs to be about half of that of conventionally grown corn.  This provides clear advantages for larger-scaled sustainable conscious producers, but it does little for the limited resource farmers.  Adapting the living mulch system for sweet corn production may be one way to extend the concept to the limited resource clientele. 

    Objective 2.  Optimizing fall clover re-establishment within corn row spacing, strip-till band width, and population density variables.   Rationale for objective: There is a delicate balance between competition by the corn and release of nitrogen by the clover.  The major source of N in the living mulch system is from senescing clover leaves as the corn stem elongates and shades the clover.  Narrow row spacing and higher population densities promote canopy conditions conducive to shading and are a principle of weed competition.  It is unclear what the impact row spacing and population density will have on clover regeneration, hence the impetus for this objective.  . 

    Objective 3.  Obtain an approximation of how much N is transferred from white clover to corn in a living mulch system.  Rationale for objective: We have one year of data where we have estimated the clover impact on N fertilization in corn.  The experiment needs to be validated with additional years of data over multiple locations to demonstrate the robustness of the concept. 

    Objective 4.    Determine the impact of the living mulch corn production system on water runoff and quality in an integrated crop/grazing system.  Rationale for objective: The forage quality of corn stover is low and often insufficient for maintenance of gestating cows but could be improved in the presence of a highly digestible and high protein forage such as clover.    Mulch crops are known to reduce water runoff and improve water quality in systems which livestock do not graze the crop residue but increases turbidity and coliform contamination when grazed.  Having a mulch crop in the system may mitigate pollution potential by reducing runoff and turbidity of the water.

    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.