A New Direction for Cover Crops: Developing Perennial Ground Cover for Corn Systems

Iowa Learning Farms Virtual Field Day will discuss the potential for perennial ground cover in corn

March 11, 2024, 10:27 am | Alena Whitaker, Daniel Andersen

AMES, Iowa – Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and Conservation Learning Group, is hosting a free virtual field day on Thursday, March 21 at 1 p.m. Central time. Join for a live discussion with D. Raj Raman, Morrill Professor of agricultural  biosystems engineering at Iowa State University, and Daniel Andersen, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and extension agriculture engineering specialist at Iowa State.

RegenPGC stands for Regenerating America’s Working Landscapes to Enhance Natural Resources and Public Goods through Perennial Groundcover. The vision of RegenPGC is to make year-round groundcover on working lands the norm for Midwestern U.S. agriculture and beyond. Central to the approach is developing and de-risking perennial groundcover systems, where a perennial cover crop is planted once and then persists for multiple years alongside annual crops such as corn and soybean.

This project started nearly two decades ago, with Ken Moore, distinguished professor of agronomy, and RegenPGC educational theme leader, and his team exploring ways of planting a perennial cover between rows of corn. Early successes led to funding from the Sun Grant program, INRC and others, and eventually to USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture Sustainable Agricultural Systems Coordinated Agricultural Projects program. RegenPGC was formally started in September 2021 as a five-year transdisciplinary project combining research, extension, education and commercialization efforts.

“One of our goals is finding a perennial ground cover that is paired in both space and time within the corn phase of the system,” said Andersen. “One species that is showing promise is Kentucky bluegrass, similar to what most people have in their lawns.”

In this system, the grass is growing between the rows with a strip-till zone for the corn plant. These species are complementary to each other – when the corn is active, the grass isn’t and when the grass is active the corn isn’t. There are different teams working on breeding for both corn and perennial ground cover, as well as methods to encourage senescence to reduce competition. An additional team is also focused on quantifying the ecological benefits of the system from reduced erosion and nitrogen leaching, as well as impacts on weed pressure and insects.

Virtual field day access instructions

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1 p.m. CT on March 21, to learn more,

The field day will be recorded and archived on the Iowa Learning Farms website so that it can be watched at any time.

Participants may be eligible for a Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit. Information about how to apply to receive the CEU (if approved) will be provided at the end of the event.

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