Benefits of Cover Crops in Snap Beans

Pressure to decrease production costs while maintaining a product that is exposed to minimum pesticide applications has encouraged producers to look at alternative pest management strategies.

''In recent years, there has been more interest in incorporating cover crops in vegetable production for reasons such as weed suppression, disease management and soil quality improvements. Research has been conducted by many universities that have looked at determining the best cover crop to incorporate into a snap bean rotation that increases weed suppression and decreases the incidence of soil pathogens while, at the same time, builds up soil quality.

Weed suppression is a concern for all snap bean producers. Pressure to decrease production costs while maintaining a product that is exposed to minimum pesticide applications has made producers look at alternative weed suppression programs. Cover crops are a management tool that can alleviate some of the weed population while building up soil organic matter. A trial was conducted in 1998 and 1999 in Kalamazoo County by Dr. Dale Mutch, MSU Extension specialist at Kellogg Biological Station, and Todd Martin, MSU Kellogg Biological Station, that looked at weed suppression and biomass production of common cover crop species. The two year study showed that oilseed radish yielded the highest amount of biomass. Oilseed radish, hairy vetch and oats had the highest weed suppression of the cover crops that were tested.

Root pathogens are a major concern for snap bean producers. Fusarium root rot is a common pest in Michigan. Soil condition will influence the incidence and severity of the population. Soil compaction, low fertility and injury caused by pesticide or fertilizer use are some of the culprits that will increase the risk of Fusarium root rot. The addition of cover crops, specifically grass or cereal cover crops, will not only introduce a non-host plant but it will also help decrease soil compaction, increase soil fertility when used as green manure and it can suppress some weed growth. Ongoing research from Cornell University is comparing various cover crop usages on snap beans evaluating root health and yields. Preliminary results are favoring the grasses over brassicas and forbes for root health as well as yields. For more information on Fusarium root rot look at Extension Bulletin E2876, Fusarium Root Rot of Common Beans.

Snap bean growers who are considering or have been using cover crops in their rotation need to evaluate what their objectives are in using the cover. Contact Christina Curell at 231-592-0792 or Paul Gross at 989-772-0977 extension 302 to assist you in determining what cover crop is best for your situation. You can also visit the Michigan State University Cover Crop website or the Midwest Cover Crop Council website.

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