Investigating the impact of clover and radish cover crops on sugarbeet yield in a sugarbeet cyst nematode environment.
Crop rotation is an important aspect of sugarbeet production. In Michigan, wheat is the most common crop to plant the year before sugarbeet, but corn is also popular, followed by soybeans, dry beans, alfalfa, and cucumbers. An important but at times overlooked aspect of crop rotation is the use of cover crops. Incorporating cover crops into a crop rotation offers a number of benefits, such as increasing soil organic matter, improving soil water retention, providing additional nutrients such as nitrogen, reducing soil erosion, improving soil health and microbial activity, and mitigating certain pests. For Michigan sugarbeet growers, cover crops are most often included in the rotation after wheat. Two popular cover crops planted are mixes of clover species, and sugarbeet cyst nematode trap crop species of oilseed radish. Both cover crops offer a unique set of benefits to sugarbeets. The primary benefits of clover are to increase organic matter and provide additional nitrogen, while the trap crop radish can break up soil compaction and decrease the population of sugarbeet cyst nematodes. In the current study, the impacts of clover and radish cover crops on sugarbeet yield the following year were compared, along with a check that had no cover crop planted. This is a multi-year study for which data collection began in 2020 and is ongoing. A different field location has been used every year, each of which has a known history of sugarbeet cyst nematode. The effects of the different treatments were determined using several metrics, including measuring nematode presence at the end of the season, conducting dead beet counts to assess the influence each treatment had on root disease, and recording yield and sugar data. Yield and sugar data were used to calculate the grower’s gross income with each treatment. The costs associated with the different cover crop systems were then used to calculate the grower’s net income for each. Selecting the appropriate cover crop is an important decision for growers, as it could have an impact on farm revenue and profitability.