The monocultures he’s researched include Austrian winter field pea, hairy vetch, crimson clover and wheat, and the mixed species included rye, wheat, hairy vetch, turnips and radishes. Cover crops are planted at lower than full seeding rates, which may differ from information seen in other parts of the country, he said.

DeLaune said everyone knows cover crops aren’t free: Consider the cost for the seed and use of soil moisture. But benefits can outweigh the costs over time.

“We have maintained our cotton yields. We have seen an increase in our soil nitrogen in the upper 6 inches, particularly following legume monospecies. We have seen a visible response to cotton behind those cover crops.”

He says his team measures neutron probes in all of the cover crop research plots every other week and he has compiled four years of moisture graphs.

“Yes cover crops use water,” DeLaune says. “But some people say cover crops make water. What they are talking about is increased infiltration. We pull soil moisture down by timing of cover crop termination in mid to late April, but if we get rains in May and plant in June, we get a much higher infiltration rate and by planting season, we are back to status quo.”

He likes to let the wheat form a head and stem before terminating it, which may use a little more water, but that makes the residue, and that is the key to protecting the soil surface, building root biomass and improved infiltration.

The ultimate goal with cover crops is to build soil structure and make it more functional, he says.

“With cotton on cotton, no-till alone is probably not going to cut it,” DeLaune says. “But we’ve done very well with just a wheat cover crop; that’s a $6 or $8 treatment per acre compared to the $20 to $25 per acre with a mix of some of these species.”

But cover crops alone are not the answer.

“If you are doing continuous cotton, some type of cover crop would be good, but I would encourage a crop rotation,” DeLaune says. “I have data that show a cotton-sorghum rotation can increase carbon more rapidly, increasing carbon levels in four years under the rotation, whereas we haven’t in eight years with cotton on cotton.”

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