Chemical use in conventional corn production can be reduced by using living mulches, improves soil health

A recent study published in Agronomy Journal found that using perennial living mulches can regenerate soil health faster and with less cost than using annual cover crops. There are many benefits to rotating fields with cover crops like increasing soil organic matter, soil structure and even crop yields. However, while a field is planted in cover crop, it can take that land out of production if the rotation falls during the growing season. Cover crop seeds can also be expensive and costs may not be fully recovered if the only monetary gain comes from boosts in yield from later crops. In this study, white clover was planted as a perennial living mulch in combination with corn as the cash crop. This perennial plant reseeds on its own and doesn’t require tilling between growing seasons. The corn was planted directly into the living mulch. Soil characteristics and corn yield were monitored across three years in response to treatments of living mulch and rotations with annual cover crops. After the duration of the experiment, the annual cover crops did improve soil health characteristics, but not as much as the living mulch. Overall corn yield was lower in the living mulch treatment. However, production costs were reduced because seeds didn’t have to be purchased each year, less fertilizer was needed and herbicide use was reduced. Corn is typically a very chemically intense crop to produce conventionally, but the results of this study show living mulches can reduce reliance on pesticides as well as GM corn developed for use with pesticides.


Banner Photo credit: Lukasz Szmigiel;