Risk versus reward: thinking critically about cover crops

It’s hard to find a farmer these days who doesn’t see some of the benefits cover crops can bring to their operation. From reduced soil erosion to improved soil structure, nutrient recycling, moisture retention and much more – the list of benefits is long and impressive. But how much is too much? Where and when do cover crops create more risk than reward?

To get more perspective on these questions, RealAgriculture asked two of Ontario’s leading crop researchers to weigh in on the conversation. We caught up with OMAFRA plant pathologist Albert Tenuta and University of Guelph researcher David Hooker at the recent SouthWest Crop Diagnostic Day at Guelph’s Ridgetown campus.

While sharing observations from their current research, Tenuta and Hooker discuss planting green and the challenges and risks growers need to understand when planting cover crops. Hooker, who also farms, discusses what he wants to know from a grower’s perspective, as well as a researcher, to gain the benefits of cover crops for his farm while mitigating the risks.

In this video, Tenuta and Hooker also compare and contrast how cover crops fit in corn and soybean management systems. They take a close-up look at a series of research plots demonstrating how corn and soybeans perform when planted into a cereal rye cover crop that has been desiccated in April or rolled, as well as how corn fares in a green rye crop that’s burned down in early June.

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Tenuta notes that the impact of disease is a big part his research focus. He says early research indicates that soil borne pathogens – from fusarium to rhizoctonia and pythium – have a larger window to impact the crop when green cover is present. He adds that one way to mitigate that risk is to remove the green bridge to create a 10 to 14-day period where the cover crop is killed prior to planting.

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