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Cover Crop Management on the Southern High Plains: Impacts on Crop Productivity and Soil Water Depletion

Agriculture throughout the Southern High Plains of the United States relies on supplemental irrigation from the Ogallala Aquifer because of limited precipitation and high evapotranspiration rates. Unfortunately, extraction rates greatly exceed the recharge rate of the aquifer. This region is prone to soil erosion, so maintaining soil coverage is critical for protecting soil resources. Despite the many benefits of planting cover crops, producers do not readily plant winter crops in the Southern High Plains due to concerns of depleting soil water availability for subsequent summer crops. Based on the results of this experiment, producers can plant rye with a no-till drill to help maintain soil cover and produce high-quality winter forage for grazing livestock without threatening soil water supply for the summer crops; in this case, teff. Light irrigation (up to 25 mm per month) should be applied to supplement rainfall and ensure grazing if the producer is reliant upon the rye and does not have other forage available for contingency. Finally, timely termination of the cover crops is critical. Delayed termination of the cover crops was the biggest factor found to reduce the productivity of the teff.

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