Cover Crop Studies & Trials

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Weeds in Cover Crops: Context and Management Considerations

Cover crops are increasingly being adopted to provide multiple ecosystem services such as improving soil health, managing nutrients, and decreasing soil erosion. It is not uncommon for weeds to emerge in and become a part of a cover crop plant community. Since the role of cover cropping is to supplement ecosystem service provisioning, we were interested in assessing the impacts of weeds on such provisioning. To our knowledge, no research has examined how weeds in cover crops may impact the provision of ecosystem services and disservices. Here, we review services and disservices associated with weeds in annual agroecosystems and present two case studies from the United States to illustrate how weeds growing in fall-planted cover crops can provide ground cover, decrease potential soil losses, and effectively manage nitrogen. We argue that in certain circumstances, weeds in cover crops can enhance ecosystem service provisioning. In other circumstances, such as in the case of herbicide-resistant weeds, cover crops should be managed to limit weed biomass and fecundity. Based on our case studies and review of the current literature, we conclude that the extent to which weeds should be allowed to grow in a cover crop is largely context-dependent.

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