Early Lessons from Ridgetown’s Long-term Cover Crop Trial for Field Crops

Dr. Dave Hooker and his colleagues have been curious about the value of integrating cover crops into a farming operation in the long term. These questions have remained unanswered by numerous short-term trials they had been conducting, which led them to establish a new trial. As it can take time for a cropping system to equilibrate, this long-term cover crop trial was developed with the hope of uncovering the answers to the questions they had, as well as the questions yet to be asked. Two trial sites have been established in Southern Ontario to capture two different regional environments. The Ridgetown trial represents the deep southwest while the trial at the Elora Research Station represents a shorter growing season. At each location, two primary cropping systems are being investigated, with a specific focus on the response of these systems to a range of cover crop intensities.

To get more information on the trials and discoveries made so far, OMAFRA specialist Jake Munroe travelled to Ridgetown to speak with Dr. Hooker.

The three major take-home messages that Dr. Hooker outlined in this interview related to stand variability, nitrogen application, and impacts on soil. The trial has shown a tremendous amount of spatial and temporal variability of cover crops amongst plots. Additionally, the trial has shown that application of nitrogen can nearly double the biomass of cover crops, which may have a positive carry-over effect on the next crop. Finally, Dr. Hooker believes that the increase in soil carbon and improvement of soil structure that occurs as a result of cover crops will have a positive effect on the health of the cropping system in the long term.

For more information on cover crop research in Ontario, follow Dr. Dave Hooker on Twitter @cropdoc2 and visit the Cover Crops page of www.fieldcropnews.com.