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Cover Crops Across Prairie Canada





Farming Smarter Project

Timeline: 2017 – current

Principal Investigator: Yvonne Lawley, University of Manitoba

Lethbridge Project Contact: Ken Coles

Funded through Integrated Crop Agronomy Cluster


Cover crops are an ever-growing trend throughout Prairie Canada, but little is known about the benefits and detriments this addition to our rotation can have on our fields. This project will evaluate cover crops to discover more about their viability, impact and benefits. By the end of this project, we hope to know:

  • If cover crops can grow reliably across a range of cover crop windows, and growing environments within the prairies
  • If crops grown in rotation with and without cover crops consistently had the same or different yields with identical inputs
  • Potential agronomic, environmental and economic benefits/drawbacks of including cover crops in crop rotations
  • If cover crops can increase soil microbial activity, nitrogen cycling, soil carbon or reduce N2O fluxes in the short to medium period
  • If the benefits of cover crops outweigh the cost of seed and establishment over the short and medium term.


  • Figure out the potential for cover crop growth across a wide range of over crop windows and environments
  • Evaluate the reliability of cover crop establishment within annual crop rotations across a range of growing environments
  • Discover the impact of cover crops in crop rotations on crop yield and quality across a range of growing environments
  • Evaluate the impact of cover crops on soil health across a range of growing environments in Prairie Canada
  • Quantify the environmental impact of cover crops on N2O fluxes in three growing environments in Prairie Canada
  • Evaluate the economic costs and benefits to including cover crops in annual crop rotations across growing environments in Prairie Canada


Locations: Carman, MB, Brandon, MB, Saskatoon, SK, Reddvers, SK, Lethbridge, AB


  • 4 year crop rotation with cover crops (fully phased)
  • 4 year crop rotation without cover crops (fully phased)
  • 2 year wheat-canola crop rotation check (fully phased)
  • Perennial crop check

Lethbridge crop rotation will be wheat, canola, durum and then pea

Grain Crops:

Tillage system: Reduced tillage systems. Use tillage when required to incorporate crop or cover crop residue to create a good seedbed. Use direct seeding or reduce tillage where possible or representative of standard practices in your growing area.  You will need to use your experience and judgement.

Seeding: Select a representative variety and seeding rate for each crop type for your growing area, to allow for more timely cover crop seeding – consider selecting a variety on the early side for your area.  Select an appropriate seeder for each crop. Disc drills are important if direct seeding into cover crop residue

Fertilizer: Fertilizer rates for each crop type will be based on fall soil test and local lab recommendations. Select a representative target yields for your research farm/growing area for each crop. Fertilizer rates should be the same for treatments with and without cover crops. Although soil tests will be conducted by plot (by rep in year 1), select one rate for each crop and apply to all plots with that crop in the experiment for that growing season. 

Herbicides: Apply pre-plant and in-crop herbicides as required for adequate grassy and broadleaf weed control. Use label rates. Be mindful of spray drift to neighboring plots for both cash and cover crops. Other mechanical and cultural control practices can be used in combination with herbicides based on your experience and judgment.

Fungicides and insecticides: fungicides and insecticides should be applied as seed treatment or sprayed in-crop following standard practice for your growing area. When possible, disease and insect damage should be limited so that they do not mask rotation differences.

Harvesting: Harvest each crop in the rotation at the appropriate time with the appropriate equipment. Identify a representative area that is one plot combine pass within each plot that will have minimal sampling disturbance during the growing season to quantify grain yield. Sub-samples of grain will be save each year of the study.

Perennial Crop Check:

Establish an alfalfa or alfalfa-grass forage mix that is adapted to your growing area in year 1 of the experiment. This perennial treatment is a check treatment for soil quality measurements in the final years of the study. The perennial crops should be hayed (or cut and raked off) at least once per year. The cut forage must be removed from the plot area. The perennial crops should be fertilized annually based on soil test recommendations or standard practice in your growing area. If the stand is poor – inter-seed in the spring or fall to fill in the stand. Control weeds as required.



We’re still working on this project! We’ll update as soon as we have results. 

Keep checking in!



We  have no data. We’ll hold our tongues for now.

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