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When will you get back N tied up in cover crop residue?When will you get back N tied up in cover crop residue?

It's the one question Shalamar Armstrong can count on getting at almost every talk he gives.

Tom Bechman 1

August 12, 2016

2 Min Read

Shalamar Armstrong has spoken at a number of meetings about cover crops this past year. The Purdue University agronomist says he’s always excited to talk about the potential benefits of cover crops. But he can count on getting one question at almost every meeting.

“Someone always wants to know when they will get the nitrogen back that cover crops scavenge and save from loss through tile lines,” he says.


Eileen Kladivko, also a Purdue agronomist, has conducted cover crop research for the past several seasons. She has noted previously that you likely don’t get all of the nitrogen back early in the season. Nitrogen is tied up in the cover crop residue and is released as the residue breaks down over time. However, there isn’t solid research data on when N is released and available for use by growing crops, she notes.

“It appears to be an education and information gap,” Armstrong says. “So we’ve set up a study to try to focus in on answering that question.”

The study, underway at the Purdue Agronomic Center for Research and Education, consists of different cover crops, crop rotations and tillage systems, he says. The work is partially funded by the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, with help from USDA.

“We’re looking at hairy vetch, cereal rye and combinations of these two species, with a control with no cover crops,” Armstrong says. “One reason we chose them is because they are very different species.”

Hairy vetch is a legume that can fix nitrogen from the air and release it to the next crop for use. The education gap is in knowing exactly when and how this release happens, Armstrong notes.

Cereal rye is very aggressive. “It can produce lots of growth above- and belowground, and it is very good at scavenging N in the fall and spring,” he adds.

The overall goal of the study is to examine when N is released from various cover crop residues, and compare that timing to when modern corn hybrids need N the most during the season, he concludes.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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