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Cover Crops with No-till and Grazing Are Helping Crops Weather the Drought

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

Rye cover crop being roller crimped in front of the tractor. Soybeans are being no-tilled in at the same time behind the tractor.

The North Jersey RC&D staff took a day during this hot, dry-spell to catch up with farmers to see how crops are faring. If you haven’t been paying attention to the weather, Northern New Jersey has been going through a dry-spell and the corn and soybean crops will take a big hit if we do not get a good rain soon. This is following sky-high input costs for farmers (meaning they have more money invested in this crop) and a forecasted global food shortage due to the war in Ukraine.

The crew stopped at five farms and took moisture and temperature readings at three of those farm sites. At those three sites, we were able to compare a field with improved management practices with a field that is managed at a lower practice standard for soil health.

Site 1 was cover cropped in rye and then burned down with chemicals followed by tilling corn in. The burn down kills off the cover crop to allow for the corn to grow. The improved management practice at Site 1 had a rye cover crop that was also burned down, but was then followed by no-till for the corn planting.

Site 2 was cover cropped in rye, burned down, and then soybeans were no-tilled in. The improved management practice for the adjacent field was to use a rye cover crop and then roller-crimp to kill the rye. Soybeans were planted green into the cover crop at the same time the rye was roller-crimped. This was followed by a light chemical treatment to ensure the cover crop would not continue to grow and compete with the corn crop.

Site 3 sampling was in a hay field with no grazing. The comparison field was in a clover and triticale cover crop that incorporated grazing in the spring. This was followed by a no-till corn crop. The hay field was sampled on July 14th, 2022 while all other fields were sampled on July 13th, 2022.

It is important to note that our results are anecdotal due to the small number of farms and just one day of sampling, but we think they are important notes to make and provide a snapshot in the growing season.

Here are the takeaways from the day:

  • Soil moisture levels were better in all fields that had the improved soil health practices of no-tilling, roller-crimping and planting green, and incorporating livestock versus comparison fields.

  • Surface temperature and temperature at 3.15” were lower in the no-tilled versus the tilled field.

  • The field that had livestock grazing cover crops followed by corn had great soil moisture given the drought conditions. Before sampling for moisture, the farmer noted that grazing seemed to improve soil health in ways that synthetic fertilizers are unable to do.

  • We visited three farmers who used livestock to graze cover crops. All were happy with the results of integrating livestock and plan to continue the practice.

The results from the moisture and temperature readings are below:



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