Integrating winter annual forages into a no-till corn silage system
The benefits of cover crops within crop rotations are well documented, but information is limited on using cover crops for forage within midwestern United States cropping systems, especially under no-tillage management. Our objective was to evaluate plant, animal, and soil responses when integrating winter cover crop forages into no-till corn (Zea mays L.) silage production. Three cover crop treatments were established no-till after corn silage in September 2006 and 2007 at Columbus, OH: annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum L.), a mixture of winter rye (Secale cereale L.) and oat (Avena sativa L.), and no cover crop. Total forage yield over autumn and spring seasons was 38 to 73% greater (P 0.05) for oat + winter rye than for annual ryegrass. Soil penetration resistance (SPR) in May 2007 was 7 to 15% greater (P 0.10) in the grazed cover crops than in the nongrazed no cover crop treatment; however, subsequent silage corn yield did not differ among treatments, averaging 10.4 Mg ha–1 in August 2007. Compared with the no cover crop treatment, cover crops had three- to fivefold greater root yield, threefold greater soil microbial biomass (MB) in spring 2008, and 23% more particulate organic carbon (POC) concentrations in the 0- to 15-cm soil depth. Integration of forage cover crops into no-till corn silage production in Ohio can provide supplemental forage for animal feed without detrimental effects on subsequent corn silage productivity, with the added benefit of increasing labile soil C.