This webinar will explore how Illinois farmers are using cover crops to strengthen their conservation cropping systems. Specific strategies for integrating cover crops with corn and soybean production practices that promote soil health, water quality and profitability while minimizing risk will be emphasized.

Presenter: Joel Gruver, Associate Professor of Soil Science and Sustainable Ag, Western Illinois University

Dr. Gruver earned his BS in Chemistry from Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, his MS in Agronomy from the University of Maryland in College Park, and his PhD in Soil Science from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to teaching Dr. Gruver is the Director of the WIU Organic Research Program. He received the National No-Till Educator of the Year Award in 2015. His research interests include conservation cropping systems with a focus on cover crops and organic grain production, soil organic matter, and innovative teaching methods.

Download Dr. Gruver’s presentation here

  • NLRS – Lofty goals for nutrient reduction by 2025
    • The goals are all based on a baseline from 1980-1996
    • Increased 7% for nitrate and 26% for phosphorus
    • Goal is 45% reduction
  • Point sources (sewage systems) have been making reduction progress
  • Illinois Conservation Transect Survey – data is getting worse
    • Losing soil in most areas
  • 2012 was a turning point for cover crop adoption – dry weather really showed which soils had greater water holding capacity (fields with long time cover crop and no-till practices)
  • Iowa farmer Steve Berger – plants 2,000 acres of cereal rye and plants corn into that cereal rye
    • Focuses on setting up his planter effectively
    • Manages nitrogen for cereal rye before corn
    • Insects
    • Time
  • Practical Farmers of Iowa Cooperators’ Program
    • Is farmer-led research and identifies the 7 key issues to make cover crops pay on        your farm
    • PFI has resources for planting corn into cereal rye
  • IA Soybean Association’s On-Farm Network – replicated strip trial database
    • All information is farm-scale research
    • The negative CC effects on corn are likely related to nutrient immobilizations and/or root pathogens
  • Precision Conservation Management – program that helps interpret result of conservation practices
    • Began by IL Corn and ISA became a partner in December 2020
  • Can cover crops improve the efficiency of fall applied nitrogen within conventional midwestern cropping systems?
    • Research by Illinois State University – nitrate load in tile water reduced by 50% if winter cover crop in place
    • Watershed impact of mass cover crop adoption
  • Soybean health experiment
    • Soybeans no-till drilled into cover crops
    • Both cereal rye and rapeseed improved soybean stands
    • Cereal rye preceding soybeans gave a significant increase in yield when Rhizoctonia root rot was a problem
  • Crop root density affected by preceding cover crop
    • Higher number of corn roots at depth when cover crops like radish are planted     before corn
  • Radishes – after two months, fine roots will be 3-4 feet deep
    • Giant radishes could be a problem because too much biomass
    • Radishes are also really good at extracting phosphorus
    • Radishes and legumes release nutrients from their biomass very quickly
    • Cereal grains have long-term nutrient storage, but if you let it get to joint stage it can actually result in needing more nitrogen
  • Penn State has done research into mixing cover crops – new research shows that when multiple species are combined we can change nutrient uptake
  • Vertical tillage tool is a good piece of equipment for planting cover crops – faster and more cost effective
  • Cover crops can help reconnect topsoil and subsoil and also help repair hydrologic damage


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