Cover crops: a sustainable practice in a corn-wheat cropping system

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In South Central Nebraska, cover crops grown after winter wheat harvest help prevent soil erosion, run-off and nitrate leaching. They are an important step toward more sustainable corn production in the Midwest. However, farmers are hesitant to grow cover crops because they use considerable amounts of soil water, tie up nitrogen, and offer habitat for crop pests, all of which may reduce the performance of subsequent corn crops. We wanted to investigate the effects of grass cover crops on the growth, development and yields of the following rain-fed corn crop. Cover crops (cereal rye, oats, and a mix of rye and oats) were planted following winter wheat on non-irrigated no-till plots at the University of Nebraska South Central Ag Laboratory (SCAL) near Clay Center in late summer 2017. Corn plant density, height, stalk diameter, and developmental stage were measured weekly from June through July 2018, and were compared to a control (corn grown without a previous cover crop). This research is important for farmers in rain-fed winter wheat and corn systems that are considering adding cover crops into their rotation. Farmers adopting more sustainable cropping systems, such as adding cover crops to a wheat-corn rotation, is essential to protecting the surrounding human and natural environments.


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