Compaction Test: A penetrometer is used to measure the level of compaction on soils that have cover crops and on soils that do not. Compaction can have a negative impact on many things, such as plant rooting, water infiltration, biological activity, storm water runoff, and more.
Infiltration Test: A controlled test is performed in the field to measure the rate of infiltration (how much and how fast 1 inch of rainfall will infiltrate into the soil). This is important to soil moisture levels, runoff erosion, and ground water recharge.
Earthworm Count: This count is done by a visual inspection of soil cores to look for biological life--particularly earthworms. A measure of earthworm activity correlates well with the health of the soil. More worms mean more tunnels, more air space, more water infiltration, more places for roots to grows, and more incorporation of organic matter.
Slake Test: A comparison of the stability of soil aggregates. The more stable a soil the more resistant to erosion it is.
Respiration Test: The Solvita test, a measure of the CO2 coming off the soil, is conducted on soil samples. Since CO2 is a product of life in the soil, it can be used as a measure of the microbial life in the soil. A healthy soil is a “living soil”!
Soil Temperature: Temperature readings are taken on site to look at differences in both soils with cover crops and those without. Soil temperature can affect many things, such as seed germination, microbial life, plant stress and health, and water retention.
Soil Moisture: A measure of the soil moisture at a predetermined depth is taken to compare sites. Soil moisture also affects several parameters similar to soil temperature.
Cover Crop Biomass: Biomass will be sent to the lab to measure the nutrient content. The amount of nutrients cover crops can pull from the soil and hold will affect the nutrients that are available to the next year’s crop. This reduces the potential for excess nutrients to move off site causing potential harm to water quality.
Basic Soil Test: Soil samples are sent to the lab for fertility analysis. In general, we would expect that soils with cover crops will have more nutrients (fertility) available for crop uptake than soils without cover crops.
Other Lab Test to Compare Soil Quality/Health: These tests include, Soil Microbial Biomass, Active Carbon, Mineralizable Nitrogen (all done at University of Missouri), and Haney Test (completed at Ward Laboratories).
Our goal with this program is to provide real on-site research specific to each farm that can be used to make future decisions when it comes to cover crops. We’re reaching to define the benefits of using--or not using--cover crops as part of the farming operation.