Year of Publication


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Document Type

Master's Thesis


Agriculture, Food and Environment


Plant and Soil Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Montserrat Salmeron Cortasa

Second Advisor

Dr. Erin Haramoto


Winter cover crops grown in rotation with grain crops can be an efficient integrated pest management tool (IPM). However, cover crop biomass production and thus successful provisioning of ecosystem services depend on a timely planting and cover crop establishment after harvest of a cash crop in the fall. One potential management adaptation is the use of short-season soybeans to advance cover crop planting date in the fall. Cover crops planted earlier in the fall may provide a greater percentage of ground cover early in the season because of higher biomass accumulation that may improve weed suppression. However, adapting to short-season soybeans could have a yield penalty compared to full-season soybeans. In addition, it is unclear if further increasing cover crop growing season and biomass production under environmental conditions in Kentucky could limit nitrogen and water availability for the next cash crop. This thesis combines the use of field trials and a crop simulation model to address the research questions posed.

In Chapter 1, field trials evaluating yield and harvest date of soybean maturity group (MG) cultivars from 0 to 4 in 13 site-years across KY, NE, and OH, were used to calibrate and evaluate the DSSAT crop modeling software (v 4.7). The subsequent modeling analysis showed that planting shorter soybean maturity groups (MG) would advance date of harvest maturity (R8) by 6.6 to 11 days per unit decrease in MG for May planting or by 1 to 7.3 days for July planting. The earliest MG cultivar that maximized yield ranged from MG 0 to 3 depending on the location, allowing a winter-killed cover crop to accumulate between 257 to 270 growing degree days (GDD) before the first freeze occurrence when soybean was planted in May, and between 280 to 296 GDD when soybean was planted in July. Winter-hardy cover crops could accumulate 701 to 802 GDD following soybean planted in May and 329 to 416 GDD after soybean planted in July.

In Chapter 2, a two-year field trial was conducted at Lexington, KY to evaluate the effect of a soybean – cover crop rotation with soybean cultivars MG 1, 2, 3 or 4 on cover crop biomass and canopy cover, and on weed biomass in the fall and the following spring. Results showed that having cover crops was an efficient management strategy to reduce weed biomass in the fall and spring compared to no cover treatment. Planting cover crops earlier in the fall after a short-season soybean increased cover crop biomass production and percentage of ground cover in the fall, but not the following spring. Planting cover crop earlier after a short-season soybean did not improve weed suppression in the fall or spring compared to a fallow control with full-season soybean. Having a fall herbicide application improved weed control when there was a high pressure of winter annual weeds. By the spring, delaying cover crop termination increased cover crop biomass but also did weed biomass.

In Chapter 3, a soybean – cover crop – corn rotation was simulated to evaluate the effect of different soybean MG and cover crop termination, as well as year to year variability on water and nitrogen availability for the next corn crop in Lexington, KY. Simulations showed that when cover crops were terminated early, they did not reduced soil available water at corn planting. However, introducing a non-legume cover crop reduced total inorganic nitrogen content in the soil profile by 21 to 34 kg ha-1 implying 15 to 30 kg ha-1 less in corn nitrogen uptake. Cover crop management that was able to maintain similar available water values than fallow treatment while minimizing nitrogen uptake differences was cover crops planted after soybean MG 4 with an early termination. However, the best management strategies that will maximize ecosystem services from cover crops as well as cash crop productivity may need to be tailored to each environment, soil type, irrigation management, and must consider year-to-year variability.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Grant from USDA, 2017