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Cover crops bringing numerical increases in soil health

Research shows encouraging results for improving soil health with the cover crops in soybeans.

Forrest Laws

November 12, 2021

Patience is a virtue when it comes to realizing the soil health benefits of planting winter cover crops in a rotation with soybeans, according to a three-year study by University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture scientists.

The research conducted at the University’s Pine Tree, Rohwer and Vegetable Research Stations in Arkansas has shown encouraging results for improving soil health with the planting of different mixes of cover crops and wheat double-cropped with soybeans.

“In this study where we’ve had no-till and cover crop rotations over time, we’ve seen numerical increases in both soil health and soil organic matter, but we haven’t seen statistically significant differences yet,” said Trent Roberts, Extension soil fertility specialist with the University of Arkansas.

See more: Planting cover crops can produce higher bean yields

“Now there are some things to think about,” he noted. “We are seeing statistically significant increases in soybean yield with the implementation of cover crops. So we know those cover crops are having a benefit whether it’s increased weed control, moisture retention, water infiltration – something is happening to boost our soybean yields.”

Field day

Roberts discussed the findings in his presentation at the University of Arkansas’ virtual Rice and Soybean Field Day, which included specialists in those crops from its Extension Service and Agfricultural Experiment Station.

“Even though we’re not seeing a statistical increase in our soil health yet, we believe that over time with the continued implementation of these practices we will start to see those significant increases or changes in those soil health metrics,” he said.

For growers who are interested in implementing cover crops in their production systems, Roberts said, “I do believe soybean is probably the easiest crop for you to start doing that. They are very forgiving in the sense of our high seeding rate and the ability to plant or drill those high plant populations, and it give us more flexibility if we do have stand issues.

See more: Tillage costs can add up in traditional soybean planting systems

“The other thing is to try to find a cover crop that best suits not only your soil, your environment and your crop rotation but also what you’re trying to achieve. Some producers are interested in increasing soil health, some in weed suppression and you should choose your cover crops based on those goals you’re interested in achieving.”

For more information on cover crops contact Roberts at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Forrest Laws

Forrest Laws, senior director of content for Farm Press, spent 10 years with The Memphis Press-Scimitar before joining Delta Farm Press in 1980. He has written extensively on farm production practices, crop marketing, farm legislation, environmental regulations and alternative energy. He now oversees the content creation for Delta, Southeast, Southwest and Western Farm Press. He resides in Memphis, Tenn. He served as a missile launch officer in the U.S. Air Force before resuming his career in journalism with The Press-Scimitar.

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