Commenced in January 2007
Frequency: Monthly
Edition: International
Paper Count: 3

Cover Crops Related Abstracts

3 Biogas from Cover Crops and Field Residues: Effects on Soil, Water, Climate and Ecological Footprint

Authors: Manfred Szerencsits, Christine Weinberger, Maximilian Kuderna, Franz Feichtinger, Eva Erhart, Stephan Maier

Abstract:

Cover or catch crops have beneficial effects for soil, water, erosion, etc. If harvested, they also provide feedstock for biogas without competition for arable land in regions, where only one main crop can be produced per year. On average gross energy yields of approx. 1300 m³ methane (CH4) ha-1 can be expected from 4.5 tonnes (t) of cover crop dry matter (DM) in Austria. Considering the total energy invested from cultivation to compression for biofuel use a net energy yield of about 1000 m³ CH4 ha-1 is remaining. With the straw of grain maize or Corn Cob Mix (CCM) similar energy yields can be achieved. In comparison to catch crops remaining on the field as green manure or to complete fallow between main crops the effects on soil, water and climate can be improved if cover crops are harvested without soil compaction and digestate is returned to the field in an amount equivalent to cover crop removal. In this way, the risk of nitrate leaching can be reduced approx. by 25% in comparison to full fallow. The risk of nitrous oxide emissions may be reduced up to 50% by contrast with cover crops serving as green manure. The effects on humus content and erosion are similar or better than those of cover crops used as green manure when the same amount of biomass was produced. With higher biomass production the positive effects increase even if cover crops are harvested and the only digestate is brought back to the fields. The ecological footprint of arable farming can be reduced by approx. 50% considering the substitution of natural gas with CH4 produced from cover crops.

Keywords: Sustainable Agriculture, Biogas, Cover Crops, catch crops, land use competition

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2 Multifunctionality of Cover Crops in South Texas: Looking at Multiple Benefits of Cover Cropping on Small Farms in a Subtropical Climate

Authors: Savannah Rugg, Carlo Moreno, Pushpa Soti, Alexis Racelis

Abstract:

Situated in deep South Texas, the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) is considered one the most productive agricultural regions in the southern US. With the highest concentration of organic farms in the state (Hidalgo county), the LRGV has a strong potential to be leaders in sustainable agriculture. Finding management practices that comply with organic certification and increase the health of the agroecosytem and the farmers working the land is increasingly pertinent. Cover cropping, or the intentional planting of non-cash crop vegetation, can serve multiple functions in an agroecosystem by decreasing environmental pollutants that originate from the agroecosystem, reducing inputs needed for crop production, and potentially decreasing on-farm costs for farmers—overall increasing the sustainability of the farm. Use of cover crops on otherwise fallow lands have shown to enhance ecosystem services such as: attracting native beneficial insects (pollinators), increase nutrient availability in topsoil, prevent nutrient leaching, increase soil organic matter, and reduces soil erosion. In this study, four cover crops (Lablab, Sudan Grass, Sunn Hemp, and Pearl Millet) were analyzed in the subtropical region of south Texas to see how their multiple functions enhance ecosystem services. The four cover crops were assessed to see their potential to harbor native insects, their potential to increase soil nitrogen, to increase soil organic matter, and to suppress weeds. The preliminary results suggest that these subtropical varieties of cover crops have potential to enhance ecosystem services on agricultural land in the RGV by increasing soil organic matter (in all varieties), increasing nitrogen in topsoil (Lablab, Sunn Hemp), and reducing weeds (Sudan Grass).

Keywords: Sustainable Agriculture, ecosystem services, Cover Crops, subtropical agriculture

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1 Functional Traits and Agroecosystem Multifunctionality in Summer Cover Crop Mixtures and Monocultures

Authors: Etienne Herrick

Abstract:

As an economically and ecologically feasible method for farmers to introduce greater diversity into their crop rotations, cover cropping presents a valuable opportunity for improving the sustainability of food production. Planted in-between cash crop growing seasons, cover crops serve to enhance agroecosystem functioning, rather than being destined for sale or consumption. In fact, cover crops may hold the capacity to deliver multiple ecosystem functions or services simultaneously (multifunctionality). Building upon this line of research will not only benefit society at present, but also support its continued survival through its potential for restoring depleted soils and reducing the need for energy-intensive and harmful external inputs like fertilizers and pesticides. This study utilizes a trait-based approach to explore the influence of inter- and intra-specific interactions in summer cover crop mixtures and monocultures on functional trait expression and ecosystem services. Functional traits that enhance ecosystem services related to agricultural production include height, specific leaf area (SLA), root, shoot ratio, leaf C and N concentrations, and flowering phenology. Ecosystem services include biomass production, weed suppression, reduced N leaching, N recycling, and support of pollinators. Employing a trait-based approach may allow for the elucidation of mechanistic links between plant structure and resulting ecosystem service delivery. While relationships between some functional traits and the delivery of particular ecosystem services may be readily apparent through existing ecological knowledge (e.g. height positively correlating with weed suppression), this study will begin to quantify those relationships so as to gain further understanding of whether and how measurable variation in functional trait expression across cover crop mixtures and monocultures can serve as a reliable predictor of variation in the types and abundances of ecosystem services delivered. Six cover crop species, including legume, grass, and broadleaf functional types, were selected for growth in six mixtures and their component monocultures based upon the principle of trait complementarity. The tricultures (three-way mixtures) are comprised of a legume, grass, and broadleaf species, and include cowpea/sudex/buckwheat, sunnhemp/sudex/buckwheat, and chickling vetch/oat/buckwheat combinations; the dicultures contain the same legume and grass combinations as above, without the buckwheat broadleaf. By combining species with expectedly complimentary traits (for example, legumes are N suppliers and grasses are N acquirers, creating a nutrient cycling loop) the cover crop mixtures may elicit a broader range of ecosystem services than that provided by a monoculture, though trade-offs could exist. Collecting functional trait data will enable the investigation of the types of interactions driving these ecosystem service outcomes. It also allows for generalizability across a broader range of species than just those selected for this study, which may aid in informing further research efforts exploring species and ecosystem functioning, as well as on-farm management decisions.

Keywords: Multifunctionality, Agroecology, Cover Crops, functional traits, trait complementarity

Procedia PDF Downloads 149