- Compared corn production management options of 60-inch corn rows with cover crops seeded in the wide rows to standard 30-inch corn rows without cover crops between the rows.
- Corn grain yield, moisture, and protein content was compared between the two options.
- Overall, corn yield was reduced by 20-35% across in the wide corn rows in three plots located throughout South Dakota.
Throughout the Corn Belt, most corn fields are planted in rows spaced 30 inches apart, and any additional plants that emerge during the growing season are eradicated. This method of corn production aligns with most university recommendations and best management practices while delivering exceptional grain yields. In recent years, interest has risen in managing corn alternatively, planting in wider row arrangements to accommodate the opportunity for cover crop growth between the corn rows. Cover crops are used as a tool to increase biological diversity to the field. This diversity can help to suppress weeds, improve soil structure and tilth, and provide habitat for beneficial predator insects to fight pests and encourage pollinator species. Greater nutrient cycling can also be realized by implementing cover crops. Challenges to incorporating cover crops in the Northern Plains in a corn/soybean crop rotation is the short window of opportunity to establish cover crops before or after the main cash crop. Seeding cover crops between standard 30-inch rows generally delivers inconsistent results of success due to many variables, generally correlating to the amount of sunlight the cover crop receives between the corn rows. Wider corn rows provide opportunity for greater amount of sunlight to reach the cover crop and allow for sunlight to reach greater surface area of the corn plant. The 30-inch or narrower corn rows limit sunlight that reaches the bottom two thirds of the plant – wider rows allow for more efficient sunlight use.