Exploring Soil Health and Agronomic Impacts of Rye Cover Crops

Iowa Learning Farms

In partnership with twelve farmers across the state, Iowa Learning Farms and the Iowa Cover Crop Working Group are conducting the longest running on-farm cover crop research and demonstration project in the state of Iowa. Established in 2008 and 2009, these on-farm sites include randomized, replicated strips with and without cereal rye cover crops, all managed within corn/soybean cropping systems. Data collected included above-ground cover crop biomass near the time of spring termination, crop yield, soil health measurements, and earthworm midden counts. Key project findings to date:

  • Farmers reported that in 55 of 59 site-years, a properly managed cereal rye cover crop had little-to-no negative effect on corn and soybean yield. Soybean yield actually increased in 7 site-years and corn yield increased in 2 site-years.
  • After five years of a cereal rye cover crop, we found no measurable differences in soil health variables between the strips with and without the cereal rye cover crop at individual locations.
  • However, earthworms can serve as early indicator of soil health. Looking at the common nightcrawler (Lumbricus terrestris), our 2016 midden count data indicate a statistically significant difference of 38% more earthworms with a cereal rye cover crop.

Rye Cover Crop Project Webpage

Earthworm Midden Project – Blog Post and November 2016 Webinar Link

Additional Cover Crop Resources from Iowa Learning Farms 

Presented at the 2017 Soil Health Conference in Ames, IA.

Full poster: Exploring Soil Health and Agronomic Impacts of Cover Crops: On Farm Results

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