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Utilizing cover crop mulches to reduce tillage in organic systems in the southeastern USA

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 December 2011

S. Chris Reberg-Horton*
Department of Crop Science, Box 7620, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.
Julie M. Grossman
Department of Soil Science, Box 7619, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.
Ted S. Kornecki
USDA-ARSNational Soil Dynamics Laboratory, 411 S. Donahue Dr., Auburn, AL 36832, USA.
Alan D. Meijer
Department of Soil Science, Box 7619, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.
Andrew J. Price
USDA-ARSNational Soil Dynamics Laboratory, 411 S. Donahue Dr., Auburn, AL 36832, USA.
George T. Place
Department of Crop Science, Box 7620, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.
Theodore M. Webster
Crop Protection and Management Research Unit, USDA-ARS, Tifton, GA 31794, USA.
*Corresponding author:


Organic systems in the southeastern USA offer unique challenges and solutions to crop production due to regional soil and climate characterized by highly weathered soil types, high precipitation and the capacity to grow cover crops in the winter. Recently, the interest of producers and researchers in high-residue cover crops and conservation tillage systems has increased. Various designs of the roller–crimper to manage cover crops have been invented and demonstrated to growers in the southeastern region of the USA over the past 17 years. The impacts of high-residue cover crop mulches on the agronomic systems in the region are diverse. Legume cover crops assist with meeting N demand from cash crops though they decompose rapidly and are seldom sufficient for N demanding crops such as corn. Cereal cover crop mulches can have the opposite effect by immobilizing N and have a longer impact on soil moisture and weed dynamics. While undesirable for many crops, N immobilization is one possible mechanism for weed suppression in legume cash crops planted into cereal residues. Other cover crop weed suppression mechanisms include physical impedance, light availability, allelopathy and microclimate effects. Regardless of the cause, successful weed control by mulches is highly dependent on having substantial biomass. The southeastern region is capable of producing cover crop biomass in excess of 9000 kg ha−1, which is sufficient for weed control in many cash crops, although supplementary weed control is sometimes necessary. Long-term data are needed to predict when farmers should add supplementary weed control. More work is also needed on how much additional N is required for the cash crops and how best to deliver that N in a high-residue environment using organic sources.

Research Papers
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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