Winter Rye Cover Crop Effects on Soil

Published Apr 1, 2013

Research has demonstrated that maintaining vegetation on crop fields during the off-season through cover cropping has benefits for farmers and soil. Cover crops hold soil in place, preventing erosion and the concomitant loss of phosphorus (Villamil et al. 2006); cover crops also take up residual nitrates, so less leach from the field (Strock et al. 2004, Villamil et al. 2006, Kaspar et al. 2007). Soil temperature is greater in early spring under cover crops, and some cash crop yield increases have been observed (Patrick et al. 1957, Liebl et al. 1992). Some evidence suggests that cover crops may help alleviate compaction in the soil through the growth of cover crop roots (Williams and Weil 2004), and the macropores created by these roots may decrease compaction and improve soil structure, seen in increased water infiltration rates and decreased soil bulk densities (Patrick et al. 1957, Steele et al. 2012). The decomposition of terminated cover crop roots and biomass also contributes organic material to the soil, improving soil organic matter and quality (Villamil et al. 2006). A five-year trial was initiated to quantify the changes in soil properties due to cover crop use over time.