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As Corn Belt states seek ways to curb nitrogen flow from farms into the Gulf of Mexico, new University of Illinois research adds evidence for winter cover crops as an important part of the solution. A simulation study published in Science of the Total Environment finds widespread planting of cereal rye in Illinois could reduce nitrate in the state’s tile drainage water by 30%.
The research team, part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) and The Grainger College of Engineering at Illinois, knew from small-scale studies that cover crops are capable of sucking nitrate out of soil water, with long-lasting effects throughout the growing season. Their new study is the first to estimate cereal rye’s potential on a statewide level.