Cover crops are beneficial to agricultural systems because they provide a living root in the soil year-round. They can improve soil nutrient and moisture content, reduce runoff, increase helpful soil biota, suppress and compete with weeds, control pests and offer many other benefits to farms. Management of cover crops can be influenced by regional and site-specific factors.
Environmental factors cause plants to develop special adaptations to live in certain locations. These same features potentially make it difficult for the plant to survive in a newly introduced environment. Cover crop varieties offer a multitude of specific criteria that can fulfill the special requirements of diverse farms.
Special consideration must be taken when selecting cover crop varieties in order to optimize their use in agroecosystems. Balansa clover (Trifolium michelianum), black oat (Avena strigosa), black seeded oat (Avena sativa), cereal rye (Secale cereale), crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum), hairy vetch (Vicia villosa), daikon radish(Raphanus sativus), red clover (Trifolium pratense) and winter pea (Pisum sativum) were evaluated for field emergence, canopy cover, winter hardiness, spring regrowth, plant height, days from planting to 50% bloom, biomass, and disease and insect resistance to determine which varieties would be best adapted to the Elsberry Plant Materials Center service area (Illinois, Iowa and Missouri).
Sixty varieties of eight cover crop species were evaluated over a three year period. Some species tested had a wide range of results among varieties (i.e. winter pea) while others did not (i.e. daikon radish). Results of this study can help to influence varietal selection of cover crop species when used in conservation practices in an agricultural setting.