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Advanced Model and Field Data Add Up to Better Cover Crop Management

Cover crops are widely seen as one of the most promising conservation practices, improving soil health while also removing carbon from the atmosphere. But while the number of Midwestern farmers planting cover crops has increased markedly in recent years, 2017 USDA Census data show only about 5 percent have adopted the conservation practice. The reluctance of the other 95 percent may be due, in part, to a perception that cover crops require more effort and may also negatively affect summer cash crop yield.

New University of Illinois research integrates field data and advanced mathematical modeling to understand how cover crops affect soil water, nitrogen, and oxygen dynamics, and may compete with summer cash crops.

“Cover cropping requires management,” says University of Illinois Associate Professor Kaiyu Guan. “Otherwise, cover crops compete with corn and soybean and can cause some yield loss. With proper management, however, farmers could use the right cover crop types and find the optimal growth window to plant and terminate cover crops to achieve benefits and minimize negative impacts on cash crops.” 

Guan’s insights are based on a sophisticated mathematical model validated by five years of experimental field data collected from multiple sites across Illinois. Funding was provided in part by the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. For more information, read the University of Illinois ACES news article.
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