Soil Residual Herbicides And Establishment Of Cover Crops In The Fall

Indiana growers have shown increased interest in utilizing cover crops in our corn and soybean production systems over the last decade.  Concurrently, there has also been increased utilization of soil residual herbicides to help manage herbicide-resistant weeds such as marestail (horseweed), waterhemp, and giant ragweed in our corn and soybean production systems.  Soil residual herbicides can remain active in the soil for a period of weeks to months after application.  The length of time a residual herbicide remains biologically active in the soil is influenced by soil texture, soil pH, organic matter, rainfall, and temperature.  Since these factors will vary from field to field, definitive time intervals of residual herbicide activity can be difficult to predict.

The use of residual herbicides in our corn and soybean production systems may interfere with the establishment of fall-seeded cover crops under certain conditions.  Unfortunately, many of the species being used for cover crops were not evaluated for herbicide carryover when field research was conducted to support EPA’s approved herbicide labels.  As a result, data are lacking regarding rotational intervals of many residual herbicides for the establishment of many cover crop species.

About 5 years ago, we conducted experiments designed to evaluate the impact of commonly used residual herbicides on the establishment of many cover crop species.  In addition, our colleagues in adjacent states have been conducting similar research and we feel like we have a better handle on this topic now than we did seven years ago.  As was mentioned above, predicting herbicide persistence is complicated because so many different factors can influence herbicide dissipation in the soil.

As a general rule, residual herbicides that have activity on grass weeds can interfere with the establishment of some grass cover crop species, especially the smaller seeded ryegrass species.  Residual herbicides from group 2 (ALS), group 5 (triazine), group 14 (PPO), or group 27 (HPPD) can interfere with the establishment of some of the broadleaf cover crop species.

More specifically we have learned the following:

  • Corn herbicides
    • Pyroxasulfone (Zidua) and metolachlor (Dual, etc) can hinder annual ryegrass establishment.
    • Atrazine or simazine at > 1 lb/A will be problematic for legumes and mustards unless lots of rainfall occurs after application.
      • < 0.75 lb/A may allow for good establishment of most legume cover crops, mustards, and annual ryegrass.
      • Atrazine < 1 lb/A can allow cereal grain establishment. We have observed cereal rye survival with atrazine rates as high as 1.5 lb ai/A if we have near normal precipitation patterns.
    • Mesotrione (Callisto, Lumax, Lexar etc.), flumetsulam (Python) and clopyralid (Stinger, Hornet, SureStart) can be problematic for legumes and mustards like canola and forage radish.
  • Soybean herbicides
    • Chlorimuron (Classic, Canopy, Cloak, etc.), imazethapyr (Pursuit), and fomesafen (Reflex, etc.) could be a problem for fall seeded legume or mustard covers including radish. However, the establishment of cereal grains should be OK.

It is important to remember that herbicide application timing greatly influences the risk of carryover interfering with cover crop establishment.  In general, herbicides applied at planting have a lower risk of interfering with cover crop establishment than herbicides applied postemergence later in the year.  An example would be fomesafen (Flexstar, others), which can be applied both preemergence and postemergence in soybean. Fomesafen applied postemergence in late June is more likely to interfere with cover crop establishment than fomesafen applied at planting in April or May.  We can use the knowledge we have about herbicide interactions with specific cover crops to assess the risk of certain herbicide programs interfering with cover crop establishment.  However, it is important to prioritize controlling weeds in your cash crop rather than dropping certain herbicides from your program to ensure successful cover crop establishment.

Another important factor that affects herbicide carryover potential is rainfall amounts following a soil residual herbicide application.  Adequate soil moisture content is necessary to promote herbicide degradation in the soil.  This year, many areas of the state have been under drought, which will likely increase the risk of herbicide carryover to cover crops to be seeded this fall.

This summarizes our current knowledge on the establishment of cover crops following the use of residual herbicides.  The final two things to mention are that if you have questions about specific situations, one way to address the residual herbicide left in a field is to do a bioassay.  Simply collect soil from the area you would like to seed the cover crop into and an area with a similar soil type, but no herbicide residue, and plant seed from the cover crop you would like to use.  Observe growth for 3 weeks and if the plants look the same in the untreated and treated soil, you should be safe to plant the desired crop.  Another consideration if you do not have time to do a bioassay is to plant a cover crop mixture. Cover crop establishment may be more reliable when mixtures of grass and broadleaf species are purchased and planted. Residual herbicides may interfere with the establishment of some species in the mix but have no effect on other species.  The use of mixtures may allow one more protection from complete failure due to excessive herbicide residues in the soil.  It would be important however to make sure that at least one or two of the species in the mixture is tolerant to the herbicides used in a specific field.

The following video from The Ohio State University also addresses herbicide carryover concerns on cover crop establishment:

Share This Article
It is the policy of the Purdue University that all persons have equal opportunity and access to its educational programs, services, activities, and facilities without regard to race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin or ancestry, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, disability or status as a veteran. Purdue is an Affirmative Action Institution. This material may be available in alternative formats. 1-888-EXT-INFO Disclaimer: Reference to products in this publication is not intended to be an endorsement to the exclusion of others which may have similar uses. Any person using products listed in this publication assumes full responsibility for their use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.
Pest&Crop newsletter - Department of Entomology Purdue University 901 Mitch Daniels Blvd West Lafayette, IN 47907

© 2024 Purdue University | An equal access/equal opportunity university | Copyright Complaints | Maintained by Pest&Crop newsletter

If you have trouble accessing this page because of a disability, please contact Pest&Crop newsletter at