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No-Tilling Into a ‘Living Mulch’

Instead of leaving fields bare after corn silage harvest, adding a living mulch may help no-tillers prevent costly soil erosion and improve soil health.

USDA scientists in Minnesota have found seeding kura clover as a living mulch shows promise as a way to improve dairy profits by growing forage between the rows of no-tilled corn or soybeans. In the off-season, the second crop acts as a living mulch that also improves the infiltration of water and helps warm up the soil. 

Below ground, the kura clover improves soil structure, helps assimilate excess nitrogen and sometimes stores carbon. It also provides nitrogen for the subsequent cash crop.

Trap More Moisture

The researchers found kura clover improves the soil’s ability to absorb rainfall by as much as 10 times over conventionally-planted fields. Used as a perennial cover crop, kura clover doesn’t need to be reseeded every year.

“A living mulch is a companion crop system that provides the benefits of a mulch in annual row crop systems through the use of a low-growing perennial ground cover,” says John Baker, soil scientist and research leader at the USDA’s Soil and Water Management Research Unit in St. Paul, Minn. “We use kura clover, which lives for many years…

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Frank Lessiter

Frank Lessiter has served as editor of No-Till Farmer since the publication was launched in November of 1972. Raised on a six-generation Michigan Centennial Farm, he has spent his entire career in agricultural journalism. Lessiter is a dairy science graduate from Michigan State University.

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