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Over the past 38 years, we’ve produced a handful of No-Till Farmer articles on no-tilling corn and other crops into a living cover, such as alfalfa sod, cereal rye or wheat. But it’s a tricky maneuver and one that has not caught on among many no-tillers.
Yet with growing interest in making cover crops part of the overall no-till package and the government taking steps to protect the environment and produce cheaper fuel, it’s getting a fresh look from researchers at Iowa State University.
The scientists are testing between-row cover grasses to reduce soil runoff and keep vital nutrients in the soils. And with U.S. government targets requiring that 30% of our fuel needs be made from biomass 20 years from now, the agronomists are also looking at ways to harvest huge amounts of stover.
But as veteran no-tillers know, removing corn residue can cause more water runoff and deplete the soil of essential organic materials. So the scientists are looking at planting grasses between the corn rows that would remain on the field year-round and help keep the soil in place and replenished with organic matter.
“We’re trying to grow corn in a perennial sod, so that we can protect the soil and meet other environmental needs,” says Iowa State agronomist Ken Moore.
One cropping system that the team examined in 2009 increased harvest from 189 bushels of corn per acre using traditional production methods to 203 bushels with the new system. This was done…