Importance of Cover Crops to Reduce Runoff and Soil Erosion

Sjoerd Willem Duiker, PhD, CCA Penn State Extension

Cover crops are an important practice to improve soil structure, improve infiltration, and reduce soil erosion as was illustrated last week during a rainy day.

Corn field which has been impacted by over an inch of rain. Image Credit: S. Duiker, Penn State Extension

Last week we had a rainy day on Wednesday, when we received more than 1 inch of rain. The rain sometimes came down heavy, sometimes slow. I took the attached pictures from two corn silage fields. Both fields were harvested around the same time at the end of the dry summer when the soil was very dry. In the one case, a cover crop was planted after corn silage harvest. The pictures show the big difference a small grain cover crop made to improve soil structure, protect the soil surface, increase infiltration, and reduce erosion. Less visible are the nutrients that are protected from leaching and runoff by the cover crop. Most nitrate leaching will occur in the late winter and early spring when the soil profile has been recharged with water. This was only one precipitation event and many more will follow during the winter until next year’s crop will be planted. These observations show the importance of cover crops, especially after corn silage harvest.

Cornfield which has been impacted by over an inch of rain. This shows the impact cover crops can have on soil structure, soil protection, and reduction of runoff and soil erosion. Image Credit: S. Duiker, Penn State Extension.

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