Extensive tile drainage usage combined with excess nitrogen fertilization has triggered nutrient loss and water quality issues in Illinois, which over time endorsed the hypoxia formation in the Gulf of Mexico. Past research reported that the use of cereal rye as a winter cover crop (CC) could be beneficial in reducing nutrient loss and improving water quality. The extensive use of CC may aid in reducing the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The objective of this study is to analyze the long-term impact of cereal rye on soil water‑nitrogen (N) dynamics and cash crops growth in the maize-soybean agroecosystem in the state of Illinois. A gridded simulation approach was developed using the DSSAT model for the CC impact analysis. The CC impacts were estimated for the last two decades (2001–2020) for two fertilization scheduling (FA-SD = Fall and side-dress N and SP-SD = Spring pre-plant and side-dress N) comparing between CC scenario (FA-SD-C/SP-SD-C) with no CC (NCC) scenario (FA-SD-N/SP-SD-N). Our results suggest that the nitrate-N loss (via tile flow) and leaching reduced by 30.6 % and 29.4 %, assuming extensive adaptation of cover crop. The tile flow and deep percolation decreased by 20.8 % and 5.3 %, respectively, due to cereal rye inclusion. The model performance was relatively poor in simulating the CC impact on soil water dynamics in the hilly topography of southern Illinois. Generalizing changes in the soil properties (due to cereal rye inclusion) from the field scale to whole state (regardless of soil type) could be one of the possible limitations in this research. Overall, these findings substantiated the long-term benefits of cereal rye as a winter cover crop and found the spring N fertilizer application reduced nitrate-N loss compared to fall N application. These results could be helpful in promoting the practice in the Upper Mississippi River basin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number162956
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Jun 15 2023


  • Corn
  • Nitrate‑nitrogen
  • Nutrient loss
  • Soybean
  • Tile drainage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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