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Roots Key to Delivering Cover Crop Benefits

Penn State researchers working on assessing the benefits of cover crops found that root traits that impact soil carbon storage levels vary widely among cover crop species. In a study published in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, researchers compared root and shoot production of three monoculture cover crops: triticale, canola, and crimson clover, as well as a five-species mixture including all three of those species. Researcher Jason Kaye explained that the cover crop mix had simultaneously high root and shoot outputs that enabled it to increase total carbon inputs to soil. Among monocultures, triticale had the highest root-to-shoot ratio, as well as significant production of between-row roots. This research showed that an understanding of root traits could help in designing more effective cover crop mixes.