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Cover crops create living eco-systems in rice, other crops

Cover crops: more than meets the eye

Steve Green says there’s more than meets the eye when you look at the cover crop residue in a soybean field such as the one he and other researchers, farmers and industry representatives viewed at the Mississippi County Rice Irrigation Field Day.

“If you’ll notice when you look down, there’s still some cover crop residue hanging around, but it’s not a complete mat of rice stubble,” he said, speaking at a stop on the August field day at Florenden Farms near Blytheville, Ark.

“There’s a lot of microbial activity going on, breaking down the residue, and, when it breaks down that residue, it’s providing nutrients, it’s providing food for the other microbes that are in the system. This is a very diverse system that is full of life, and as you walk around you’ll see more life in these soils because there’s an eco-system here.”

Green, who became a professor of soil and water conservation at Arkansas State University after working as a research soil scientist at the USDA-ARS Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., said the soybeans that were planted behind a rye cover crop are not growing in a “sterile environment.

“You have a living eco-system here that is interacting and providing a lot of goods and services that we need.”

Farmers like Mike and Ryan Sullivan, the owner-operators of Florenden Farms, are seeking a “lot of answers” to questions about selecting, planting and terminating cover crops in their rice and soybeans.

Green and other Arkansas State University researchers have been conducting studies at Florenden Farms and other Arkansas locations to provide answers to those questions so farmers can make better decisions on cover crops.

“We’ve seen that it works well going from row rice into soybeans, and this is beans going into row rice,” said Green. “Some of the things we’re looking at is we have moisture sensors out here in both of these fields; we’re monitoring the irrigation water use; and we’re looking for answers and working with Ryan (Sullivan) to find those answers.”

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