Much of the U.S. is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, and many areas of the Corn Belt and Plains states are in moderate or worse drought as of June 6. No-till helps retain soil moisture in dry years, which translates to healthier crops throughout the growing season and better yield prospects. Cover crops can also help manage moisture, but termination timing matters. Check out these articles from past instances of drought and the insight that followed.

Cover Crops & Drought

Incorporating cover crops can improve soil moisture retention and reduce water loss. The dense vegetation of cover crops acts as a physical barrier, reducing evaporation and shading the soil, thereby reducing moisture loss from the surface. Read these articles from Cover Crop Strategies about using cover crops to fight the effects of drought:

Using No-Till During Drought

  • No-tillers who abandoned corn acres in the U.S. this year due to the historic drought could turn a negative into a positive by planting cover crops on those fields.
  • No-till is often credited with increasing organic matter in the soil, therefore helping improve moisture retention in dry years.
  • While no-till certainly wasn’t a cure-all for a severe lack of summer moisture, many no-tillers saw numerous profit-building benefits to this system in a limited-rainfall situation.
  • A large portion of the mobile nutrients that were not taken up by the 2011 crop in drought affected areas are likely to remain in the top 1-2 feet of soil. With the low rainfall in most of the southern and central Great Plains, very little of the nitrogen (N) will have been lost.
  • Soybeans are susceptible to yield loss from water deficit and drought stress at two key developmental stages, germination and reproduction-seed development.
  • Soil mineralization of N will have been quite low in rainfed fields due to low moisture.
  • In areas where droughts are common, though, can earthworms survive? This study suggests that they can.
  • While we hope more rain is on the way this summer, here are some considerations for harvesting drought-stressed corn if the drought persists.

To check the areas most affected by drought, utilize this website for up-to-date images.