Cropping system and nitrogen dynamics under a cereal winter cover crop preceding corn

S. M. Crandall, M. L. Ruffo, G. A. Bollero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cereal rye (Secale cereale L.) has been identified as a potential nitrogen (N) management tool when used as a winter cover crop (WCC). However, N deficient corn (Zea mays L.) has often been observed when preceded by a cereal rye WCC, resulting in yield reductions and deterring the integration of WCC into cropping systems of the Corn Belt. The objectives of this study were to assess soil N availability and plant N status throughout the corn growing season under various combinations of cereal rye kill date and N-fertilizer strategy in Illinois. Cereal rye WCC was killed three (KT1), two (KT2), and one (KT3) weeks prior to optimal corn planting, and N-fertilizer strategies included combinations of N splits (early and late) and N strategies (at planting, divided between planting and V6, or at V6). Although initial reductions in soil mineral N were observed in cereal rye WCC plots at planting of corn, soil mineral N among all cereal rye kill date and early N strategy plots was improved by the V6 stage and remained equal throughout the growing season. Corn under the latest cereal rye kill date in combination with its total N-fertilizer (160 kg N ha-1) allotted at V6 had lower N contents by the R1 stage than any other kill date, N strategy combination. Relative corn N deficiencies and grain yield reductions were not observed unless cereal rye kill date was delayed to one week before optimal corn planting in Illinois (KT3) and N-fertilizer applied in full at the V6 stage of corn development (late N split, V6 strategy). Residual soil nitrate (NO 3-N) remaining post-harvest of corn varied between cereal rye WCC treatments and the fallow control depending on the N strategy employed throughout the season, indicating that N usage and demands of a winter fallow cropping system and cereal rye WCC systems under different residue loads require different N-fertilizer strategies to achieve more efficient N synchrony.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-219
Number of pages11
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005


  • Cereal rye
  • Kill date
  • Mineral nitrogen
  • Nitrogen management
  • Winter cover crop

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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