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Evaluating the influence of grass or broadleaf cover crops on soil health measurements is common in the northern US Midwest. However, the comparison among different cover crop mixtures, including blends of both grass and broadleaf species is limited. In 2018–2020, cover crop experiments were conducted in South Dakota at 11 site-years. Cover crops were planted in the summer after small grains harvest as mixtures of dominantly grasses or broadleaves, a 50/50 grass/broadleaf mixture, and a no cover crop control. Soil and above-ground plant residue samples were collected in the fall before winter termination and in the spring before corn planting. Soil samples were analyzed for permanganate oxidizable carbon, potentially mineralizable nitrogen, and soil respiration. Fall and spring above-ground plant biomass in the cover crop plots were similar to the no cover crop control plots in seven of 11 site-years. Thus, growing cover crop mixes may accelerate decomposition of above-ground plant residue, possibly due to higher microbial diversity and activity under cover crops. However, including cover crops regardless of the mixture did not improve selected biological soil health indicators. Weather and soil properties (precipitation, soil organic matter, and pH) were related to differences in soil health measurements among site-years. Overall, in the first year of planting a multi-species mixture of grasses and/or broadleaves after small grain harvest, growers should not expect to find differences in soil health measurements. Long-term trials are needed to determine whether these different cover crop mixtures change soil health over time.

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Soil Science Society of America Journal

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