Alleviating Soil Compaction and Improving Weed Suppression With Multifunctional Cover Crops in Organic Grain Production Systems

Final Research Report · Ceres 2011-2014
Villamil – Masiunas – Anderson

Project participants

In addition to the PI and Co-PI, the research team is formed by our participant organic farmers: Jack Erisman, Adam Butler, and Allen Williams; Gevan Benhke, the Agro-ecology lab technician, who has been instrumental in coordinating and executing the lab and field work for this project, and Rachel Welch, a new Masters student, who started on the project in May 2013.


The long-term goal of this project is to develop the knowledge and skills needed to effectively use multifunctional cover crops to alleviate soil compaction, increase nutrient cycling, and suppress weeds in organic grain farms in IL. Our specific objectives for accomplishing this goal are: 1) to identify the best cover cropping practices to alleviate soil compaction, improve nutrient cycling, and suppress weeds on organic grain farms; 2) to partner with organic farmers to conduct on farm research and learn how to effectively use multifunctional cover crops.


The main approach for our project is to conduct on-farm research to characterize the benefits and limitations of multifunctional cover crops as well as adoption strategies for the farmers.

During 2011, as detailed in our interim report for Year 1, we worked closely with our project partners to clarify the scope and expectations of the project as well as potential outcomes. During a project meeting held in Springfield, IL, project partners selected the cropping sequence for the duration of the experiment, determined a uniform and convenient plot size for all farmers, and decided on cover crop treatments that will take advantage of their knowledge and skills and make good use of field machinery. Our collaborating farmers know their fields very well so we choose the compacted and non-compacted fields for our experiment following their lead. The areas identified as having compaction problems were corroborated with measurements of penetration resistance and supported by a preliminary statistical analysis. Farmers shared their machinery for tillage and soil preparation and were present during field selection, preliminary soil sampling, and cover crop planting in late August and early September, offering their support continuously.