Project Summaries

12-334NC  Project Manager: E. M. Barnes

COVER CROP ESTABLISHMENT TO ADDRESS MANAGEMENT CONCERNS

Matthew W. Veal, North Carolina State University

Recent escalation in fuel and fertilizer costs has dramatically increased the costs of farming operations in North Carolina. As a result of higher fuel prices many producers have invested in conservation tillage equipment, such as no-till and strip till systems. However, many of these conservation tillage methods rely almost exclusively on chemical herbicides to control weed pressure. The increased resistance to glyphosate (i.e. Roundup) has made reduced tillage systems more challenging to manage. Past investigations have shown that tillage and mechanical weed cultivation can improve weed pressure situations when glyphosate resistant Palmer Amaranth populations have appeared. However, the costs, particularly in terms of operator time, can be difficult to justify. Concurrent to the tillage activity, cover crops were established on the plots for out-off season maintenance. Anecdotal evidence from these exercises has suggested that establishing thick cover crops can be critical for controlling weed pressure.

The objectives of this study were to: 1) evaluate the ability of cover crops to suppress Palmer Amaranth while 2) improving cotton yields through improved soil conditions; 3) evaluate the feasibility of double cropping marketable rapeseed and cotton; and 4) provide cotton producers with a best management practices fact sheet that discusses the influence of establishment timeliness on cover crop performance in controlling weeds.

Cover crops were established at 3 locations in North Carolina's Coastal Plain to evaluate various aspects of this project. The sites were in Wallace, NC; Rocky Mount, NC, and Red Springs, NC. At the Wallace site, 18 plots of commercially available canola and rapeseed that were drilled on October 15, 2012. 15 of the 18 plots were drilled and the remaining 3 plots were a repeated canola variety (DeKalb DKW46-10) which were established using one of three options: spinner spreader, spinner spreader with cultipacking, and a drop spreader. The spinner spreader was set to apply 12 lbs of seed per acre. Typically, planting rates are doubled for canola and rapeseed when spreading the seed. The primary objective at this site is to determine the yield and harvest timing of the canola and rapeseed varieties. Cotton will be planted following the canola harvest as long as the planting window is still open, which may not be the case for all varieties.

In Rocky Mount, 9 unique cover crop strips include: crimson clover, hairy vetch, rye, oats, triticale, tillage radish, crimson clover-hairy vetch-triticale mix, crimson clover-hairy vetch-radish-partridge pea-triticale mix, crimson clover-hairy vetch-rapeseed-camelina-turnip-radish-partridge pea-triticale mix. All of these species were planted using a no-till drill into cotton stalk stubble on November 1, 2012. Soil cores and compaction readings were taken on the same day as the planting operation. Cover crops will either be rolled and crimped, receive a chemical burndown treatment, or be mowed. Cotton will then be planted into the neutralized cover crop.

At the cooperator site a total of 6 acres was placed into 2 cover crop species. The whole field was in cotton production in 2012 and it was split into two 3 acre blocks for this project. Half of the field was planted in a clover-vetch-tricale mix and half of the field was planted in rye. The crops were drilled in strips with two passes planting and two passes skipped. This strip trialing will allow for a better assessment of the cover crops effectiveness at improving soil conditions as well as suppressing weeds while mitigating soil variability in the field.

The results of this project have not been developed given that the window to establish cover crops did not open until September of the project year and the effectiveness of the various cover crops to meet management objectives cannot be assessed until Spring 2013. The early observations have uncovered two significant issues with the cover crops. First, the use of cover crops is growing in popularity with the recent development of the USDA NRCS Soil Health Initiative. This popularity led to some difficulty booking cover crop seed. While all the seed was found using a variety of vendors from across the United States their stocks were very limited, especially for hairy vetch.

 

Project Year: 2012
 

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