The benefits of cover crops are well known. However, few Mississippi growers use cover crops in corn because of nominal monetary return and the challenges it presents, says Erick Larson, Mississippi State University Extension agronomist.
Corn is the first crop planted in Mississippi each year, often as early as March, Larson says, in what is usually a rainy time of year. The vegetation produced by a cover crop can mechanically hinder planting and restrict sunlight from warming and drying the soil. This also can limit seed germination and establishment of a good stand of corn, reducing productivity.
Because of this, MSU researchers are looking at how to successfully use cover crops in corn production and will develop strategies to overcome challenges unique to this row crop.
The project will evaluate the following:
• The timing of herbicide applications to terminate the cover crop.
• Cover crop planting and tillage methods.
• Plant species grown for cover crops.
Nolan Mullican, an MSU graduate student who is studying agronomy and is part of the research team, says the overall goal of this research, which began in 2020, is to minimize interference from cover crops on corn establishment, growth and productivity.
“Our findings will identify limitations associated with cover crops and lead to development of practical systems that will sustain soil health benefits and improve returns.”
Based on early results, Mullican says the timing of cover crop termination has a dramatic effect on the vigor, health and outcome of subsequently planted corn. Additionally, results show substantial differences in the suitability of different cover crop species to corn production systems. These differences include growth habit, ease of establishment and adaptability to a southern climate.
We can look forward to hearing more from these researchers as they develop strategies to overcome the challenges and successfully use cover crops in corn production.