The Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator (APSIM) was used to evaluate two alternative approaches for extending the cover crop growing window into corn (Zea mays L.) and soybean (Glycine max L.) crop rotations in Nebraska, USA. We evaluated how: (i) shifting corn planting dates (mid-April to early-June) and (ii) altering comparative relative maturity (CRM) corn hybrids (80 to 115 days) influence cover crop biomass and corn yields over a 30-year period. The APSIM model was tested using experimental data and was then used to simulate a range of cover crop planting and termination scenarios. Our results showed no significant yield differences within the same corn relative maturity when planted on April 20 and May 13 but that yield declined when planted in June. During a six week fall cover crop planting window (September 15–October 31), every day before October 31 that the cover crop was planted resulted in additional 62 kg ha−1 of biomass. We also simulated a one month spring termination window (April 1–April 30) and, every day delay in cover crop termination resulted in per day additional 35 kg ha−1 of biomass. Cover crop biomass accrual was highly dependent on weather, where for identical fall planting dates, a warm wet season accrued approximately four times more biomass than a cool dry season. Although we found significant yield differences between early, medium and late season CRMs, earlier fall cover crop planting associated with either earlier spring corn planting or planting an early to medium season variety leads to ten-fold greater cover biomass. Delayed corn planting by mid-May had no yield penalty relative to April planting, and could facilitate four-fold greater cover crop biomass (cover crop terminated April 30 instead of April 1). Our results demonstrate that earlier cover crop planting in fall or later cover crop termination in spring can result in significantly more biomass which can be balanced with yield goals.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agronomy and Crop Science