Trial looks at cover crops in 60-inch corn

Increased sunlight exposure to the soil is thought to help the establishment of cover crops

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A demonstration project south of Clinton is looking at 60-inch row corn, over traditional 30-inch row corn, to better establish cover crops.

It is thought that the wider row corn can increase the light penetration to the soil, increasing the ability for cover crop establishment. The impact on corn yield or the following year’s soybean yield is yet to be determined.

Why it matters: Cover crops are an increasing trend within Ontario agriculture, but to establish them in corn can be difficult. Different methods to do so are an opportunity for growers to learn.

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“Corn canopies over so quickly. Then (when harvested) there is not enough season at the end of the year to actually capture some of that sunlight. If this is one way we can improve the cover crop establishment in corn, let’s give it a try,” says Ross Wilson, Water and Soils Resource Coordinator with the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority and a certified crop advisor.

The trials on the farm of Bill Gibson include 30-inch and 60-inch corn at different corn populations, different cover crop mixtures tailored to the corn crop, and the subsequent bean crop, and the effect of cover crop seeding rate.

The project is a two-year endeavour to understand the yield of the corn, along with the yield of the subsequent crop of beans.

“Twin rows of 60-inch corn were planted in early May, and the cover crop mix was drilled in at the V4 stage in early June.”

The corn yield, cover crop biomass production and soil health indicators all continue to be monitored.

Wilson says the corn is still looking really good as it was planted in good conditions and received timely rains. As well, the cover crops are looking good.

“One of the issues that we have to sort out with cover crops in 60-inch corn rows is that because it allows more light to get down to the soil, there’s more light for cover crops, but there is also more light for weeds.”

Two different cover crop mixes were used for the trial. One includes annual ryegrass, crimson clover, berseem clover, nitro radish and hybrid brassica. The other contains forage peas, chick peas and common vetch.

“You want a cover crop mix that might benefit the corn this year, so if we have a legume or a legume dominant mix it might provide some additional nitrogen for that crop. The other way of thinking is that we get a cover crop mix that would be neutral to the corn this year but would be beneficial to the bean crop next year; that ended up being a dominantly annual ryegrass mixture.”

Wilson says that with this trial they are hoping they can establish an agronomic system that is going to work for the farmer.

“If we can (prove) that this has potential than we can promote it as a best management practice. At this point in time we really don’t know the answer to that.”

Wilson provides video updates on the progress of the project every few weeks. These videos are on Facebook, Twitter and at healthylakehuron.ca.

The video updates and project design are also available by visiting the abca.ca website.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Glenney

Jennifer lives on a farm in Cayuga, Ontario and has a lot of experience in the many aspects of agriculture.

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