Strip tillage, cover crops outperform conventional tillage

02/11/2013 09:55:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

cabbageVicky BoydCombining strip tillage and cover crops helps improve the yields and quality of cabbage, according to a Michigan State University study.Combining strip tillage with cover crops yields more benefits to Michigan vegetable growers than conventional tillage, according to a long-term study by Michigan State University.

The project, led by horticulture researcher Dan Brainard, examined strip tillage combined with cover crops to improve soil quality and reduce wind and water erosion, according to a news release.

In addition, the practice conserves soil moisture, protects beneficial insects and reduces costs for growers.

The project examined the practices for sweet corn and cabbage to determine which cover crops worked best.

So far, Brainard said winter rye and hairy vetch stood out as the best.

Weed management is the biggest challenge in the strip till-cover crop system.

But that is being overcome.

"The benefits most definitely outweigh the costs," he said in the news release. “It’s all about reducing costs to the farmer, and in the long run, this system really does the job.”

Over time, the system improves soil quality, which in turn, improves yields and crop quality.

The system also reduces irrigation and fertilization costs, reduces erosion and keeps soil-applied fertilizers and pesticides in place.

Less tillage means fewer trips across the field, reducing soil compaction and fuel costs.

Comments (4) Leave a comment 

e-Mail (required)


characters left

Annie Gaddis    
Decherd, TN  |  April, 21, 2013 at 12:12 PM

What do you mean by "combine?" Are you sowing the seeds together? Or maybe sowing one row of cabbage and then the next row in cover crops? Or maybe you mean that you are seeding the cabbage like normal, but then seed BETWEEN the rows with cover crops?

Vicky Boyd, Editor    
April, 21, 2013 at 05:40 PM

Strip tillage involves just tilling a strip. It's kind of mid-way between no-till and total tillage. You plant the cover crop first and let it grow. Then till a strip and seed or transplant the crop. Timing of the burn-down of the cover crop depends. The following comes from the Journal of Entomology and is an abstract of the work by Michigan State University described above: "In field experiments conducted in Michigan in 2010 and 2011, a preestablished oat (Avena sativa L.) cover crop was allowed to grow between rows of strip-tilled cabbage and killed at 0, 9–14, or 21–27 days after transplanting (DAT). The effects of herbicide intensity and oat kill date on arthropods, weeds, and crop yield were examined." Contact Dan Brainard, a Michigan State University (MSU) horticulture researcher,, for more info. He led the research.

Decherd TN  |  April, 22, 2013 at 09:26 AM

OK, think I got it. You plant the cover crop first. Then at a certain time of year, you till it under, allow it to turn into compost, then plant the cabbage right IN the "left overs." Is that it? (I've been using cover crops for years, but I plant them in a different spot, cut it down, compost it, then use it as "fertilizer" or "compost" for the actual crop. But I like YOUR way better. It never occured to me to just till it under, and use THAT spot for my crops.) i LIKE it! THANKS!

Vicky Boyd, Editor    
April, 22, 2013 at 10:17 AM

You may want to contact the researcher to find out the proper sequence of planting the cover crop, then burning it down before planting the vegetable crop.

Feedback Form
Leads to Insight