In 2011, the Corn Marketing Program of Michigan (CMPM) funded our proposal to evaluate six cover crop combinations in three different tillage systems at WK Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) in Hickory Corners, Michigan. We leveraged the CMPM grant to receive funding from Project GREEEN to conduct the same experiment at MSU in East Lansing, Michigan. Thus, we were able to evaluate this experiment on a Kalamazoo sandy loam (KBS) and a Capac Loam (MSU) soil type.

Our objectives in this project were three-fold. First, we wanted to evaluate the benefits of single and combined legume and brassica cover crops in conventionaltill, no-till and strip-till systems for a corn-soybean-wheat rotation. Second, we wanted to compare and quantify the effects on weed suppression, nitrogen availability, corn yield and soil characteristics between conventional-till, no-till, strip-till and strip-till with and without single and combined legume and brassica cover crops. Finally, we wanted to compare and quantify the economic impact on net production cost and net production income between conventional-till, no-till and strip-till, in-row brassica, between-row legumes and combination systems.


  • In 2012 all cover crop treatments resulted in higher Pre-sidedress Nitrogen levels(PSNT) ascompared to the no cover crop treatment at both locations.

  • In 2012 the highest yield for corn was with the strip till system as compared to either no-till or conventional tillage at both locations.

  • The lowest PSNT’s were recorded where no cover crops were seeded and therefore, they required the highest sidedress nitrogen rate of 130 lbs/acre for all tillage systems

  • Red clover and Austrian winter pea (both legumes) resulted in reduced nitrogen applications for all tillage systems at MSU. At KBS red clover reduced nitrogen rates for strip and conventional tillage while Austrian winter pea reduced nitrogen rates for no-till and conventional tillage systems. At MSU no nitrogen was applied for the red clover strip till treatment.

  • When comparing all tillage systems and averaging all cover crop treatments only the conventional tillage system had a greater net return compared to the no cover crop treatments at MSU.

  • When comparing all cover crops and averaging all tillage systems at MSU the oilseed radish treatment resulted in a positive net return as compared to the no cover treatment.

  • At KBS Strip till and conventional till systems resulted in a greater net return when averaging all cover crops and comparing tillage treatments.

  • Averaging the tillage systems and comparing the cover crops resulted in Oilseed radish and Austrian winter pea having greater net returns as compared to the no cover system at KBS.


Cover crops reduced nitrogen rates at both locations. The highest corn yields were recorded from the strip till system at both locations.

Utilizing cover crops with the different tillage systems resulted in higher yields but not always a higher net return. 2012 was an unusually dry and hot year. Another year of data collection should enhance analysis of the data.


Team Leader:

  • Dale R. Mutch,  612 East Main Street Centreville, MI (269) 467-5645

Team Members:

  • Dean G. Baas, 612 East Main Street Centreville, MI (269) 467-5646
  • Todd E. Martin MSU Agronomy Farm (269) 207-3010
  • Karen Renner, 1066 Bogue St room 451 PSSB (517) 355-0271x1233
  • John Green KBS (269) 330-1804


Oilseed radish, strip-till





Oilseed radish + Winter pea, strip-till






Frost seeded red clover, no-till







Radish and red clover, no-till







Frost seeded red clover, conventional till







Radish and crimson clover, conventional till