Roots Not Iron – Charting a Course to Soil Health

Year-round cover crops growing in a three-crop rotation — sounds like a great idea that could create healthier, more productive soils, but can Ontario growers make it work?

That’s a question the Thames Valley Soil and Crop Improvement Association and the Heartland Region are trying to determine with its Roots Not Iron project. In this interview, Mike Miller, who farms at Rodney, Ont., shares research findings from the first two years of the three-year project.

Mike Miller says cover crops did impact soybean stand establishment, but plants rebounded to deliver virtually the same yield as soybeans with no cover crop.

Miller says work focused on inter-seeding a rye cover crop into growing corn has yielded positive results. He reports that seeding rye at the five-leaf stage of corn has had some mid-season establishment challenges, but trials show the cover crops has no negative impact on overall corn yield.

In his presentation at the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) annual meeting earlier this month, Miller also reviewed trial results for planting rye into green soybeans. Here again there was little impact on overall crop yield. Soybean stand establishment did take a 20% hit, but plants rebounded to deliver virtually the same yield as soybeans with no cover crop.

Overall, Miller is pleased with the cover crop research results, but admits there’s still work to do to determine how best to plant into green crops, manage herbicide resistant weeds, improve stand establishment and create even emergence. But after two years of research he’s confident cover crops will not have a negative yield impact on growing crops while delivering a parade of benefits that have a long-term positive impact on soil health and crop yields.

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