Sunn Hemp: A Legume Cover Crop with Potential for the Midwest?

  •  Esther Shekinah Durairaj    
  •  James K. Stute    


Crops like corn and soybean occupy vast area in the Midwest, USA. When land is left fallow after the harvest of these crops, a number of degradation factors operate and bring about soil erosion, nutrient loss, decreased soil organic carbon, reduced biological activity and increase in weed biomass. Integrating cover crops (CCs) into this system would build benefits that the very system lacks. There are various CCs available, but leguminous CCs allows for reduced application of fertilizer nitrogen and builds the soil fixed atmospheric nitrogen. Winter CCs are restricted in the Midwest because of the short planting window which greatly minimizes the biomass accumulation. Warm season CCs would serve well here. Sunn hemp is one such tropical CC that grows well in temperate conditions too, without producing seeds. It comes with many benefits - including decreased soil erosion, improved soil organic carbon, increase in soil fixed nitrogen, higher biomass that adds organic matter and N to the soil, reduced weed density and weed biomass. The timing and method of termination influences the residue management. Going by the benefits it adds, sunn hemp is a viable warm season CC that can be grown in the Midwest and has great potential in fallows, prevented plant acres, areas of crop failure (planted and failed) and also in areas after the harvest of the short season small grains or processing crops. However, intensive research on sunn hemp is needed in the Midwest which is discussed. 

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