Cover Crop Diversity in No-Till Systems

2013 Annual Report for ONE13-177

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,964.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Jeffrey Carter
UVM Extension
Kirsten Workman
UVM Extension

Cover Crop Diversity in No-Till Systems


In 2013, the Champlain Valley Crop, Soil and Pasture Team partnered with four farms to evaluate cover crop mixes in wheat and corn silage systems, as well as Tillage Radish in a pasture system. Four replicated trials were planted and evaluated for preliminary results. Although final data collection, compilation and results will not be complete until spring 2014 for cover crop performance (and later for subsequent crop performance), we did gather some valuable data this first year and use this project to disseminate information to farmers in the Champlain Valley. Our focus was primarily on heavier clay soils, however, much of the information from this project will be applicable across the Champlain Valley (and beyond).

Although some of our plots did not produce usable data, the data we have collected so far is already proven valuable. For example, in our fall measurements the lower seeding rates (50 lbs/acre) of our two different mixes that were interseeded into corn fields is performing comparably or better than the control plots of 100 pounds of winter cereal rye in percent cover, dry matter yields, and nutrient uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. In addition, our winter hardy cover crop mix actually removed slightly more nutrients per acre than the higher rate of the same mix for the November 1st data collection. All the mixes yielded more biomass and nutrients per acre than the control plots of winter rye.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  1. Identify alternative cover crop options for field crop producers (wheat and corn silage) and determine if cover crop mixes provide increased benefits over single species cereal rye plantings.
  2. Evaluate winter-killed cover crop mixes in comparison to winter-hardy mixes, as an option for farms with heavier soils to incorporate cover crops as part of a no-till system.
  3. Determine the amount of soil coverage and biomass produced by cover crops in the Fall, as most current data is evaluates Spring performance.
  4. Evaluate the use of no-till drilled radishes to increase forage in grazing systems
  5. Increase farmer knowledge and adoption of cover crops, cover crop mixtures, and conservation tillage practices.


Replicated trials were established at four locations in Addison and Chittenden Counties on working dairy farms. Fields included corn (silage), organic wheat and pasture and were on a mix of soils from clay to fine sandy loam.

Cover Crop Mixes in Corn Silage

Two trials were identical on two farms growing corn silage (Ferrisburgh and Richmond, VT). We interseeded plots by hand with broadcast seeders in mid-August to simulate aerial application rates. Corn was already at or beyond the R1 stage. We then went in immediately after harvest and used a Haybuster No-Till Grain Drill to seed a second set of identical plots. There were three replications of five treatments. All plots were 10 by 100 feet. At both Deer Valley Farm (Ferrisburgh, VT) and Farr Farm (Richmond, VT) we seeded the following treatments:
• 100 lbs/acre winter cereal rye
• Winter Kill Mix (56% Everleaf Forage Oats/33% Cow Peas/11% Tillage Radish) @50 lbs/acre • Winter Kill Mix @ 116 lbs/acre
• Winter Hardy Mix (56% Winter Triticale/33% Austrian Winter Pea/11% Bonar Forage Rape) at 50 lbs/acre
• Winter Hardy Mix at 116 lbs/acre

The trials planted at Deer Valley Farm have been very successful. We had great germination and growth on all plots, which enabled us to collect some very useful data and provided us with a wonderful opportunity for a farmer field day on November 8th (see Impacts/Contributions/Outcomes Section). On the interseeded plots, we collected four subsamples per plot for yield/biomass measurements and forage analysis as well as percent residue cover measurements using the Line Transect method. We were not able to collect yield or forage analysis on the fall drilled plots, but did measure percent residue cover. See the attached Field Day Handout for a summary of the preliminary data. We left multiple areas with no cover crop around the plots, to enable us to do some comparison in the spring (and subsequent summer/fall corn crops). This farm has decided to plant the entire half of this field that included our plots as no-till corn in the spring. The rest of the field was conventionally plowed and will provide another great opportunity for a field day in the spring.

The trials planted at Farr Farm have not yielded any data yet. Due to an extremely wet early growing season for corn which prevented normal weed control, weed pressure was very high at this site. Interseeded plots showed little growth all the way up through November 1st. In addition, a later corn harvest on this field, followed by some equipment malfunction facilitated a late (October 15, 2014) establishment of our second trial planting with the drill. We did, however, add a third planting at this site in which we broadcast the winter rye control and the high rates of both mixes in three replications. This entire site received a manure application this fall. There was no measureable data to collect at this site as of November 1st, however, we hope to see something measurable with our spring evaluation.

In addition to these plots that were part of our project, an additional farm planted 70 acres of our Winter Kill mix on a field that was a prevented planting soybean field in August. We were able to collect yield/biomass data as well as forage analysis on this field three times throughout the season. This farm (Senesac Family Farm-Colchester, VT) has expressed interest in comparing termination and tillage methods into this killed cover crop in the spring.

Cover Crop Mixes in Wheat

One trial was planted on an organic winter wheat field operated by Elysian Fields Dairy (Shoreham, VT). This producer normally frost seeds sweet clover into his winter wheat fields in March, but left us an area just under an acre to plant our replicated trials. Our plots were 10 by 85 feet. At this site, we planted three replications of the following treatments on August 12, 2013 after the wheat had been combined, straw had been harvested, and manure had been applied:
• No cover crop • Winter Kill Mix (56% Everleaf Forage Oats/33% Cow Peas/11% Tillage Radish) at 30 lbs/acre
• Winter Kill Mix at 50 lbs/acre
• Winter Kill Mix at 80 lbs/acre
• Winter Kill Mix at 116 lbs/acre
• Winter Hardy Mix (56% Winter Triticale/33% Austrian Winter Pea/11% Bonar Forage Rape) at 16 lbs/acre (this was a mistake on the first replication, so we repeated for all three reps)
• Winter Hardy Mix at 31 lbs/acre
• Winter Hardy Mix at 50 lbs/acre
• Winter Hardy Mix at 80 lbs/acre
• Winter Hardy Mix at 116 lbs/acre
Unfortunately, this trial yielded no usable data. We believe that due to heavy weed competition in an organic grain system with dairy manure, our cover crop trials were unsuccessful. The only spots that seemed to do well at all were actually outside the plots where the farmer had already frost seeded his sweet clover. It seems as though in an organic small grain system, frost seeded legumes may be our best bet in Vermont.

Tillage Radish in Pasture

One trial was planted into an existing organic dairy pasture. We used a Haybuster No-Till Grain Drill to seed Tillage Radish at three different rates on two different dates. Our plots were 10 by 100 feet. Our ‘early’ planting date was delayed by wet field conditions created by our extremely wet spring and the heavy clay soils on this farm. We seeded the following treatments in three replications on both August 12 and August 30, 2014.
• Control
• Tillage Radish at 5 lbs/acre
• Tillage Radish at 10 lbs/acre
• Tillage Radish at 15 lbs/acre
In addition to the treatments, we seeded a high rate of 20lbs/acre around the perimeter of the plots. We fenced off the plots (as the farmer would be grazing the remainder of the pasture). We checked back often, but did not see any measurable results. However, this pasture also did not show much growth in total, even from the cool season grasses. We had also drilled some radish along with other brassicas and summer annuals in a few other demonstration sites throughout the valley (as a part of another project) on varying soil types and saw similar results. In the best fields, there was clumped, spotty growth in the pastures with no significant forage to speak of. We found the same was true of warm season annuals like millet. One crop that has seemed to compete in a sod situation is forage oats.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We took a huge amount of pictures from this project, which we have already used. We have given several presentations about our work, both nationally and locally, and these pictures and preliminary data were invaluable to telling our story. We also publish a monthly newsletter that is distributed to more than 500 people electronically and mailed to another 400. As a result of this project, we have added a “Cover Crop Corner” section which highlights this work every month. You can see an archive of our newsletters here: We also highlighted the project on our Facebook page:

As a result of our research plots, Ray Brands (Deer Valley Farm) decided to plant this entire half of the field that included our plots using no-till methods next year (the remainder of the field was moldboard plowed to incorporate manure), which will enable us to further evaluate the practical applications of cover mixes in no-till systems. Jeff Senesac, who was not part of the original project but planted 70 acres of our winter kill cover crop mixes has also volunteered to do a tillage trial next spring, splitting the field with conventional tillage, reduced tillage, and no-till methods when planting his corn crop. We also have had several producers inquire about cover crops in no-till soybean systems as a result of our work with this project. We will look into this with future grant projects.

We hosted a field day at Deer Valley Farm in Ferrisburgh, VT on November 8th. More than 50 people attended, at least half of which were local farmers. There were also agency people (NRCS, Dept. of Agriculture, Lake Champlain Basin Program), representatives from two seed companies, and a group of agriculture students from a local vocational school. We had very fruitful and lively discussions about cover crops and conservation tillage on clay soils. Because Ray had spread manure on part of the field, we were also able to talk about the interface of dairy manure in these systems.

Although several of our sites did not yield usable data, the information we gathered from the corn silage fields has proved to be very useful. As was hoped, the sheer action of planting the plots and talking about our efforts has started quite a buzz. We have had several producers interested in our work and volunteering to participate in future projects. We were recently awarded two Vermont NRCS CIG grants to do more research/demonstration with cover crop mixes and soil health, and this project has enabled us to really focus what we want to do in the future with these grants and other grants to come. We are excited to collect more data in the spring and make some conclusions and recommendations for farmers interested in cover crop mixes as part of a no-till system.


Cheryl Cesario
Extension Grazing Outreach Professional
University of Vermont
23 Pond Lane, Suite 300
Middlebury, VT 05753
Office Phone: 8023884969
Daniel Infurna
Extension Research Project Assistant
University of Vermont
23 Pond Lane, Suite 300
Middlebury, VT 05753
Office Phone: 8023884969
Rico Balzano
Extension Agronomy Outreach Professional
University of Vermont
23 Pond Lane, Suite 300
Middlebury, VT 05753
Office Phone: 8023884969