The Value of Cover Crops in Dairy Production Systems

Proceedings Home W2W Home w2w17 logo


The purpose of this research was to identify trade-offs among soil erosion, soil health, and crop production when using cover crops with manure application.Continuous corn silage cropping systems in Wisconsin leads to overall removal of N from the system unless manure is applied. However, this cropping system allows for the planting of cover crops or a winter silage crop post harvest, which may lead to increases in soil N over time. Cover crops are valuable in these corn-silage based rotations as they also provide ground cover after harvest and can reduce N leaching after fall manure application. 

What did we do? 

The cropping system investigated was a continuous corn silage system with fall manure application. The experiment was a randomized complete block split-plot design where the whole plot treatments were no cover, rye as a cover (chemically terminated) or as a forage (harvested) crop and the split plot treatment was depth.The objective of this study was to determine the effect of cover cropping on potentially mineralizable nitrogen (PMN) over a growing season using a 7-day anaerobic incubation (2015 and 2016 season), a long-term aerobic incubation (2015 season), and N uptake by corn. 

What have we learned? 

There were no statistical differences in short-term PMN among cover crop treatments at any time point in 2015 or 2016. However, the cover crop treatments led to a yield reduction compared to no cover crop use in both years. Thus, our study showed significant effects of cover cropping on agronomic factors like corn yield and N uptake but these same differences were not measurable in the soil N.

Future Plans    

This work will continue to evaluate the long-term effects of cover crop use on soil health.

Corresponding author, title, and affiliation       

Matthew Ruark, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Corresponding author email

Other authors   

Jaimie West, Kavya Khrishnan, Kevin Shelley

Additional information  


This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2013-68002-20525. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2017. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Cary, NC. April 18-21, 2017. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.