Cover crops: an alternative practice to improve soil physical properties and soil water dynamics
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] Cover crop management practices have emerged in the past decades as an alternative to improve soil physical, biological and chemical properties by acting as a soil surface cover and protecting it from wind and water erosion. This study was conducted on eight experimental watersheds at the Chariton County Cover Crop Soil Health (CCSH) farm in the claypan region of north-central Missouri. Cover crop treatments were established in 2012. Six watersheds received different cover crop mixes with no-till and two watersheds served as the control without cover crops in a no-till corn (Zea mays L.) and soybean (Glycine max L.) rotation. The goal of this study was to clarify the benefits that cover crops can have on Missouri claypan soils, so this alternative practice can be adopted by farmers in the northern part of the state. Undisturbed soil cores were taken on July 2013 and July 2014 to determine soil bulk density (Db), saturated hydraulic conductivity (Ksat), soil water retention (SWR), and pore size distribution (PSD). Results from this study showed that after two growing seasons' cover crops can help improve soil water dynamics at the soil surface, however more benefits can be obtained using cover crops for more years.