The Effect of Cover Crops on Soil Water Balance in Rain-Fed Conditions

Published by: Atmosphere

Abstract: Soil and water conservation benefits of cover crops have been hypothesized as a way to mitigate and adapt to changing climatic conditions, but they can also have detrimental effects if rainfall is limited. Our objective was to quantify effects of winter cover crops on soil water storage and yield of silage maize under the agro-ecological conditions within Vojvodina Province in Serbia. The experiment was conducted under rain-fed conditions at three locations and included a control (bare fallow) plus three cover crop and two N rate treatments. The cover crop treatments were common vetch (Vicia sativa L.), triticale (x Triticosecale Wittm. ex A. Camus) and a mixture of the two species. All were managed as green manure and subsequently fertilized with either 120 or 160 kg N ha−1 before planting silage maize (Zea mays L.). Cover crop effects on soil water storage were calculated for two periods, March–May and May–September/October. A Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) used to characterize drought severity for 2011/2012 and 2012/2013, showed values of 3 and 9, respectively, for the two periods. Soil water storage was reduced by all cover crop treatments, with the greatest deficiency occurring during the extremely dry year of 2012. Previous studies have shown cover crop growth reduced by soil water depletion during their growing season and negative effects on early-season growth and development of subsequent cash crops such as silage maize, but if rainfall is extremely low it can also reduce cash crop yield. This detrimental effect of cover crops on soil water balance was confirmed by correlations between soil water storage and maize silage yield.

doi: 10.3390/atmos9120492

Krstić, Đ.; Vujić, S.; Jaćimović, G.; D’Ottavio, P.; Radanović, Z.; Erić, P.; Ćupina, B. The Effect of Cover Crops on Soil Water Balance in Rain-Fed Conditions. Atmosphere 20189, 492.