Long-Term Effect of Cover Crop on Water Use Efficiency in Manured and Rainfed Soybean-Corn Rotations

Author(s): Yang, W.; Feng, G.; Adeli, A.; Jenkins, J.

Planting winter wheat cover crops in corn and soybean rotations is an effective to improve the effective utilization of soil moisture and enhance water use efficiency. However, the longer-term impact of this practice needs to be further investigated. The hybrid RZWQM-DSSAT model calibrated with 5 yr (2013-2017) field data was used to simulate the effects of this practice on crop evapotranspiration, yield, and water use efficiency under a rainfed condition in no-till corn-soybean cropping system at Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in Pontotoc Mississippi. The poultry litter (13.4 Mg ha-1) was applied to corn field with cover crop (CC) and no cover crop (NCC) in May 2014 and 2016. The model was calibrated well in terms of crop yield and biomass, plant N uptake, and soil moisture with percent error (PE) was within ±15%, Nash-Sutcliffe model efficiency (EF) > 0.7, and relative root mean square error (RRSME) < 15%. Longer-term simulations showed that planting a winter wheat cover crop increased corn yield by on average 1,560 kg ha-1 (12%) and did not change soybean yield. The simulation also indicated that the practice increased annual evapotranspiration by 3.5 cm (9%) in corn years but did not affect evapotranspiration in soybean years. Simulated grain water use efficiency was increased by 17% for corn, and it was not changed in soybean. This study demonstrated that introducing winter wheat cover crops in a corn-soybean cropping system is a promising approach to increase corn water use efficiency in the subtropical agro-ecosystem.

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