Sustainability of cover cropping practice with changing climate in Illinois

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Abstract

Climate change could adversely impact the best management practices (BMPs) designed to build a sustainable agro-ecological environment. Cover cropping is a conservation practice capable of reducing nitrate-nitrogen (NO3–N) loadings by consuming water and nitrate from the soil. The objective of this study was to investigate how climate change would impact the proven water quality benefits of cereal rye as a winter cover crop (CC) over the climate divisions of Illinois using the DSSAT model. Moreover, this study explores the sustainability of the CC with the changing climate conditions by using five regional climate models (RCMs) projections of two warming scenarios-rcp45 (a medium emission scenario - radiative forcing of 4.5 W/m2) and rcp85 (a high emission scenario - radiative forcing of 8.5 W/m2)). The CC impact simulated in the warming scenarios for the near-term (2021–2040) and the far-term future (2041–2060) were compared with the baseline scenario (2001–2020). Our results conclude that the climate change may negatively impact [average of CC and no CC (NCC)] maize yield (−6.6%) while positively affecting soybean yield (17.6%) and CC biomass (73.0%) by the mid-century. Increased mineralization caused by rising temperature could increase the nitrate loss via tile flow (NLoss) and nitrate leached (NLeached) up to 26.3% and 7.6% on average by the mid-century in Illinois. Increasing CC biomass could reduce the NLoss more considerably in all the scenarios compared to the baselines. Nevertheless, the NLoss level in the CC treatment can increase from the near-term to far-term future and could get closer to the baseline levels in the NCC treatment. These results suggest that CC alone may not address nitrate loss goals via subsurface drainage (caused by increasing N mineralization) in future. Therefore, more robust and cost-effective BMPs are needed to aid the CC benefits in preventing nutrient loss from the agricultural fields.

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Gupta, R., Bhattarai, R., Dokoohaki, H., Armstrong, S. D., Coppess, J. W., & Kalita, P. K. (2023). Sustainability of cover cropping practice with changing climate in Illinois. Journal of Environmental Management, 339. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2023.117946

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