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Multistate Cover Crop Study

Seedling Disease’s Role in Yield Drag on Corn After Rye.

Iowa State University is one of many state institutions across the country that will put to use a $10 million grant from the USDA Food Research Initiative.

Alison Robertson, plant pathologist at ISU, says the grant funds a five-year project, a part of which will help answer the question of seedling disease’s role in yield drag that sometimes occurs when corn is planted after a rye cover crop.

Robertson and her team have been conducting research on cover crops in Iowa for over five years, and they have identified seedling disease as one of the potential causes for the yield drag that may occur.

Winter rye is a host for pathogens that cause seedling disease. In high enough numbers, the pathogens could affect the following corn crop, especially if the interval between terminating rye and planting corn is less than 10 days.

Disease may reduce stands and vigor in corn seedlings, which then act as “weeds” in the fields and produce zero or very small ears, leading to a reduction in yield. Robertson leads a team of scientists from 15 states who will work together to compare the results from a variety of growing environments.

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy calls for 14 million acres of cover crops planted, but many farmers are hesitant to incorporate cover crops into their production practices due to the logistics of seeding cover crops prior to or at soybean and corn harvest, economics, potential yield drag, disease, pest problems, and so on.

Robertson says, “As a land-grant university, our duty is to serve the people of Iowa by addressing their needs and the concerns of cover crop-hesitant farmers. Through this research, we will provide information that will enable them to be successful as they adopt cover crops into their production systems.”

In addition to funding the research on seedling disease, insects, and weeds, the grant will enable other institutions to create a suite of decision-making tools based on historical data and data generated by the new research. The tools will be available to help farmers optimize their crop-production management.

Portions of the grant will also be used to develop undergraduate curricula and to evaluate information ecology as a social science component.

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