A friend of the farmer, gardener, and angler alike, the earthworm may help to unlock the secrets of the soil by serving as an early indicator of soil health! Anecdotally, farmers have expressed benefits to using cover crops and noted improvements to their soil, but quantifying changes in soil health can be complex to measure (and require years of intensive sampling). That’s where earthworms come into play!
Thanks to funding from a USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant, the Iowa Learning Farms team is studying the common nightcrawler, Lumbricus terrestris, and investigating its population dynamics in agricultural ecosystems.
In particular, we are conducting midden counts at seven sites across the state (6 on-farm demonstration sites, 1 research site), all managed as a no-till corn/soybean rotation.
Within that system, we are evaluating earthworm populations on side-by-side strips with and without cereal rye cover crops. Read more about the study in our earlier blog posts Guest Blog: Digging for Worms and Midden Madness.
What have we found?
The midden counts conducted in June 2016 indicate that on each site, strips with a cereal rye cover crop have comparable or higher earthworm counts than those without a cereal rye cover crop …
Looking at all sites together across the board, we see statistically significant differences between the strips with a cereal rye cover crop and those without. Based upon this preliminary data set, we are seeing 38% more earthworm middens with a cereal rye cover crop!
If you’d like to learn more, I just gave a webinar earlier in the week on this topic. The archived webinar can be viewed on the Iowa Learning Farms webinar page (along with all of our previous webinars). Click on the November 16 webinar to view Earthworms and Cover Crops: Unlocking the Secrets in Soil!
This material is based upon work supported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant 69-6114-15-005.