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Manhattan Plant Materials Center Studies Cover Crops

Cover crop plots at the PMCSalina, Kansas, July 9, 2013—Cover crops provide many benefits to soil health and overall profitability within farming systems. This spring, the Manhattan Plant Materials Center (PMC) planted several cover crop studies and trials. In the study, ten different plots of single species were planted for observation and evaluation. The cover crops include: Crimson Clover, Spring Forage Pea, Ethiopian Cabbage, Oats, Yellow Mustard, Lentils (spring), Triticale (Winter), Yellow Sweet Clover, Radish, and Barley. In addition, two plots of mixed Cover (10% of each cover crop species) were planted. Each research plot is evaluated for plant characteristics, growth curve; and carbon/nitrogen ratio.

Significant benefits vary by location, season, and cover crop. A partial list of the positive results of using cover crops includes:

  • Reduced soil erosion
  • Enhanced soil organic matter
  • Reduced nutrient input
  • Conserved soil moisture
  • Protected water quality
  • Reduced weed competition
  • Increased soil health characteristics
  • Increased pollinator and beneficial insect habitat

Mark Janzen and Rich Wynia gather plant samples“There are definite reasons for using the cover crops,” explains Mark Janzen, Natural Resource Specialist, Salina, Kansas. “Cover crop mixes help improve soil health especially when soil tillage is eliminated. These cover crops capture soil nutrients (fertilizers) reducing nutrient loss through runoff that could make its way to nearby streams and rivers.”

“We are managing these cover crops much like we would expect a landowner to maintain them on their own farming operation,” said Rich Wynia, PMC Manager. “We are beginning to see soil benefits within a few months of planting the cover crops,” he said.

Preliminary data suggests that there are significant differences in cover crop species in growth rates 45 to 60 days following planting. At 90 days, species such as radish and yellow mustard have reached maturity and set seed, while others are still actively growing.

Soil health and the study of cover crops is a multiple year project to better understand growth habits and the plant’s relationship to the soil.

For more information about the Natural Resources Conservation Service and its programs, stop by your local U.S. Department (USDA) Service Center or go to the Web site www.ks.nrcs.usda.gov. Follow us on Twitter @NRCS_Kansas. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employe