Conservation Tillage Systems in the Southeast

Chapter 5: Cover Crop Management

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Kip Balkcom, USDA-ARS

Harry Schomberg, USDA-ARS

R. Dewey Lee, University of Georgia

Cover crops have long been recognized as an important component of conservation tillage systems due to the many benefits they provide. In addition to being a source of organic matter inputs to improve soil organic matter and bulk density, cover crop residues protect the soil surface from water and wind erosion. Due to mild winter temperatures in the Southeast, cover crops can be particularly beneficial as there is ample opportunity to produce significant amounts of biomass prior to planting a summer cash crop.

Finding the right plant or mix of plants that both fits into a “window” or “niche” within the crop rotation and accomplishes your objectives is a key component of cover crop management. Plant selection, planting date, fertilizing, termination date and termination method all affect the results achieved. In some cases, a mixture of plants may be the best approach to achieve the desired outcomes. Decisions concerning cover crop management are strongly influenced by the cash crop a producer plans to grow following the cover crop.

Download the tables from Chapter 5.