Category Archives: General Information

Planting Annual Ryegrass This Fall?

For those already employing annual ryegrass in the mix of your cover crops, this information will be redundant. For those new to cover crops, here are a couple of free publications to guide your first efforts.

ARG in Quebec - November photo

1. The Benefits of Annual Ryegrass.

2. Management Guide for Planting and Managing Annual Ryegrass

3. Cover Crops for “Prevented Acres”. This is another in a series of posts about why cover crops make sense. It is from the Midwest Cover Crops Council, a valuable resource for good, current information about cover crops and soil biology. The first paragraph from that publication is pasted below:

The Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) recommends the use of cover crops for prevented plant acres when feasible for several reasons. Cover crops can be a good way to take advantage of an otherwise unfortunate situation. A full season cover crop is a great opportunity to improve soil health and function. Cover crops can help to reduce soil erosion and compaction, capture nutrients, fix nitrogen, suppress weeds, moderate soil moisture, and build soil health. Benefits accomplished with these cover crops will put farmers at an advantage for the following cash crop and for years to come. A full season legume cover crop can provide considerable nitrogen for next season’s corn crop. This is also a good opportunity to capitalize on the benefits of a diverse cover crop mix. Mixing species is a good way to compound the benefits from multiple species.

Winter Cover Crops Absorb Heat

Recent studies about climate change look at “reflectivity” as a factor of our warming atmosphere.For example, pavement is black and thus absorbs more sunlight than it reflects. Cities are thus warmer because of the amount of blacktop. Scientists recommend planting more trees to block sun and cool city heat.

In a similar fashion, a federally-funded study of cover crops has suggested that foliage has the same effect in winter, raising temperatures by as much as five degrees Farenheit over fields with exposed crops, versus those where white snow reflects most of the sun’s energy.

Here’s a link to the study. Their recommendation with winter cover crops is to cut them or graze them before snowfall, so the remaining foliage will not top out above the snow.

Cover crops left over winter in a field stick up above the snow.

Independence Day – for Cover Crops, it’s Inter-dependence Day…every day!

Remember the bumper sticker: “Every day is Earth Day for farmers?”

This Independence Day, think about that bumper sticker. Just because we farm, does it mean we’re in tune with everything Mother Nature brings forth? Does it mean that farming by the book, the way our fathers and grandfathers did, will make a difference for our sons and grandsons? Does Independence Day suggest we’re free, but only in the political sense?

America, Flag, Usa, United, States

When it comes to agriculture, paying attention to interdependence is what makes a good farm great. Cover crops and no-till is a good example.

  • Conventional tillage compacts soil and leaves topsoil free to erode or blow away. Cover crops breaks up compaction and prevents erosion and loss of a farm’s best resource.
  • Mono-cropping strips the soil of important nutrients. Cover crops, especially on no-till acres, builds organic matter that attracts healthy microorganisms, friendly bacteria and earthworms
  • Nitrogen-loving cash crops need added inputs to keep corn thriving. Cover crops sequester or add nitrogen which reduces the need for fertilizer
  • Conventional tillage allows for one harvest a year. With a forage cover crop, you can do all of the above PLUS get a cutting of hay or graze your livestock.

Interdependence means that we can improve our bottom line and increase our farm’s value by working with nature. Working hard comes with the territory. Working smart, in the framework of soil biology, will help everybody up and down the food chain.

When the Going Gets Tough – Cover Crop Seed Becomes Scarce

Federal regulators aren’t generally applauded in farming circles. But in the wake of a destructive, wet spring in the Midwest, the feds have temporarily adjusted crop insurance policy to make planting cover crops easier and less expensive. The problem seems to be finding enough seed to take advantage of the shift.

The issue seems to be about crop insurance, and this spring a lot of people need to cash in on their policy because of poor planting conditions. Policy in place prevents farmers from collecting insurance on crop losses if they plant a another crop that could provide offsetting income. Lands under those stipulations are called “prevented” acres.

Annual ryegrass havest

Here’s a link to a current story, and a leading paragraph describing the policy change: In a June 20 notice, the USDA Risk Management Agency announced that farmers who plant cover crops on prevented planting acres will be permitted to hay, graze or chop those fields as of Sept. 1 of this year, rather than the usual Nov. 1 start date.

The article in Oregon’s Capital Press gives background here, and explains why the policy shift was necessary:

“Typically, under the federal insurance program, to receive 100% payment, acreage prevented from planting due to an insurable reason, such as flooding, must remain idle or be planted to a cover crop that is not hayed, grazed or otherwise harvested until after Nov. 1.

The article goes on to say that the temporary policy change, coupled with winter damage to forages, has created the rush on cover crop and forage seeds that is expected to last through the fall planting window. The problem now is whether farmers can get seed.

In a Farm Journal article on the same subject, the writer said that the adjusted date for planting still may leave producers with enough time to plant even if seed isn’t available right away.

Wohltman cautions that for farmers wanting to plant a cover crop in the next week or two, there still won’t be many traditional options for purchase.

“For farmers willing to wait until July or even August when a new round of cover crop seed is available, things will be a little bit better,” he says. “New crop oats will be ready in mid- to late July, but new-crop rye will not be ready until mid-August at the earliest.”

 

Videos – Comparison of Cover Crops courtesy of Clemson, Ohio State

Check out these videos if you want to see a wide variety of cover crop types. Two well known universities – Clemson University and Ohio State did small plot demos on a lot of traditional as well as new entries in the cover crop family. The videos were shot in April and May of 2018.

Annual ryegrasses features prominently, with some new varieties, including “Frostproof”, “Kodiak” and “Winter Hawk”, as well as “LowBoy”. The value of the first of these new varieties might be winter hardiness. In the second instance, interestingly, LowBoy has less top growth but the root structure is similar in mass to taller varieties. this might be of value for farmers not interested in grazing the annual ryegrass,but wanting the cover crop’s deep rooting and other virtues (breaking compaction, nitrogen uptake, erosion and weed control).

Some other cover crops they examine include different varieties of vetch, clover, peas, triticale, and oats.

The value of university research in agriculture is inestimable, because their funding allows new developments for improving industry standards and growth. But aside from that, the students coming through those programs will be among the new leaders in finding ways to increase production while also conserving resources.

While you’re in the video mood, perhaps you’d like to check out the videos available on the benefits of ryegrass. You can find them by clicking here.Video frame - Annual Ryegrass

 

A New Kind of Weather, A New Kind of Pioneer

Two hundred tornadoes in two weeks? What next, will we have to have to protect ourselves from frogs falling from the sky?

Image result for images tornadoes

It has always been a challenge to stay flexible to what Mother Nature throws: a deeper, longer, windier winter without enough snow, for example. Or a winter that starts and stops, with freezes and thaws changing places like partners at a high school prom.

Farmers have been a resilient lot since agriculture began in earnest, more than 10,000 years ago. And though not a new invention, cover crops are another indication that adapting to new challenges is part of the landscape.

Consider how cover cropping, combined with no-till, gives you the edge with a tempestuous season. With annual ryegrass on your fields in the spring, excess amounts of water keep the soil in place. Because the soil is more permeable, water can penetrate more quickly instead of running off and causing erosion.Annual ryegrass grows well in wet conditions, too, so a soggy spring may delay corn planting for a bit but the cover crop will protect what’s there.

Cover crops like annual  ryegrass also increase greatly the potential for corn to grow deeper into the soil. Annual ryegrass busts up compaction, down to six feet! That means in dry years, corn can send roots deeper for moisture and important nutrients, like P and K, withstanding drought conditions for much longer. Because annual ryegrass sequesters available N, you don’t have to side dress as much as you did in the old days.

Then, because cover crops improve organic matter and carbon in the soil, there is a healthier microorganism population, the soil is more crumbly and rich with life. The crops are healthier, and the harvest is more robust.

So, yes, we can still bemoan Mother Nature for throwing us curve after curve. We can complain that the co-op prices are too high, commodity prices too low, and the bank is tightening the screws. But with tenacity, and a friend like annual ryegrass, you may again be able to say you rode it out, weathered the storm, and came out on the right side of the ledger.

The Glyphosate Issue Continues to Heat Up

It was generally thought that glyphosate was safe for use around humans and animals. Scientists generally agreed that it was not carcinogenic, largely because the molecule is not soluble in fat and thus cannot be stored.

Nonetheless, several juries have awarded tens of millions of dollars in damages to plaintiffs who claimed Roundup caused their cancer (non-Hodgkin lymphoma). They based their case on a World Health Organization (WHO) study.

Other recent studies have found indications that long term exposure to application and use of glyphosate (perhaps in combination with other agents found in Roundup, Touchdown, or other proprietary brands of herbicides) could provide a weak link to a type of leukemia, although another study countered an earlier finding that glyphosate has a weak link to lymphoma (the WHO study.)

RoundUp logo

At issue, among other things, is whether it is the glyphosate itself, or glyphosate in combination with other active  (non-toxic) chemicals that creates toxicity. A recent article in The Scientist magazine sheds considerable light on the subject, although conclusions are still scarce.  Vanessa Fitsanakis, an 8th generation farmer herself, as well as a neurotoxicologist at Northeast Ohio Medical University, has met and discussed the matter extensively with scientists who defend the safety of glyphosate. Here’s a quote from the article: “Fitsanakis says that while presenting her work publicly, scientists from Monsanto or Syngenta will occasionally show up and politely challenge her research. ‘The scientists that I have spoken to from Monsanto and Syngenta are very convinced that the glyphosate by itself is nontoxic. I agree with them on that. Where I disagree . . . is that you can have an active ingredient that is nontoxic, but that does not mean that the commercial formulation is also nontoxic.’”

She goes on to say that exposure to glyphosate-based compounds may not cause diseases including cancer or Parkinson’s. But, she added, “They may be one of many risk factors that predispose people to developing sporadic forms of Parkinson’s disease in later life. And when that person with [a] genetic risk factor encounters something in the environment, like a pesticide that inhibits mitochondria, then those things together [can start] a neurodegenerative process.”

The public pressure may eventually mean a switch to other forms of weed control. Here’s an article, from North Carolina State Extension, that lists some other products – not as inexpensive nor always as effective as Roundup – but ones that may be waiting for use if and when Roundup and other glyphosate products become more difficult or illegal to apply.

Is “Good Enough” Good Enough Anymore?

When has “good enough” been your measure for anything? Raising your kids? No! Nothing’s good enough for them, right?

Electing honest leaders? Imagine where America would be if we decided that mediocre was all we could expect from those we elected? The Founding Fathers would be turning in their graves!

And how about farming? Has “good enough” ever satisfied you as the decider-in-chief? How would those who buy your crops react if your corn, beans and livestock were marginal? You’d be outta business pretty quick.

Corn emerging through ARG residue

That’s why putting cover crops on yoyur acreage makes perfect sense. For years, those who believed in deep tillage thought they were doing the best they could…rip deeper, add more fertilizer. But now we understand the complex way in which soil health is maintained, so the old ways are not good enough anymore!

It turns out that taking care of your soil, like being a watchful and loving parent, yields amazing results. With no-till and cover crops like annual ryegrass, micro-nutrients, bacteria, and carbon quickly come back to your anemic soil, even after decades of mediocre care.

  • Annual ryegrass breaks up compaction, so your crops can reach more moisture and nutrients below.
  • Annual ryegrass sequesters nitrogen, so you can save on fertilizer while preventing spring erosion.
  • Deep rooting annual ryegrass allows corn roots to grow much deeper into the soil – up to 6 feet deep – which gives your cash crop resiliency against dry summers.
  • You can graze livestock on cover crops…maybe even twice in one year…which saves you money on feed, while below the surface, the cover crop is delivering organic matter in great quantities, food for earthworms and other micro-flora and fauna.

Finally, in one of the classic “win-win” scenarios, cover crops have proven to boost production. Given how much benefit the soil gets (not to mention the benefits to the watershed and the air!), it’s not hard to imagine that it would benefit the health of the crop too.

So if “good enough” is continuing to be your standard operating procedure, you’re missing out on an opportunity to succeed in a way that benefits your wallet while adding value to your property. And if you’re the one to lead the way in your community, how great is would it be to be acknowledged as a leader, a trend setter, while contributing to your community’s health.

When good enough isn’t good enough, you’ll be raising the bar for the whole darn town, setting a standard for health and prosperity. What a legacy, right? Being known for going the extra mile to benefit others as well as yourself?

 

Earth Day – A Tribute to No Till and Cover Crops

Perhaps the hoopla about climate change and global warming is yielding some new converts to no-till and cover cropping.

Not to say whether “man caused” or “cyclical trends” is the primary factor for the increased severe weather in the Midwest. Suffice it to say that, no-till and cover crops can help mitigate some of the weather-related damage.

Tillage is almost as old as human agriculture, a sure way to reduce weeds in cropland. No-till is also an ancient practice, but in the US, it wasn’t until the 1970s that it began to make headway in modern farming.

Cover crops are also historically significant. In ancient Rome and throughout Asia, farmers have long known the value of adding natural nutrients back into crop rotations to sustain soil fertility and health. Use of a type of Vetch, for example, rejuvenated rice paddies and, just before a new planting, the vetch was removed and composted. Leaving it for too long, they learned, could rob the soil of nitrogen.

In the US, George Washington was an advocate for cover crops and extended rotations. Just before he took office as our first president, he wrote a letter about his quest for barley seed, as well as clover to be used as a cover crop.

In more recent times, the Oregon Ryegrass Commission developed a partnership with university agronomists and farmers to launch what has become a very profitable addition to agriculture. Profitable, yes, for those growing and selling of seed. But even more profitable for those planting cover crops, because of its immense value at reducing costs while increasing soil health, diversity and productivity.

Whether it’s used primarily to reduce compacted soil, to reduce erosion, reduce weeds or reduce the amount of extra nitrogen in the field, cover crops like annual ryegrass are proving their value. Whether you’re looking to increase organic matter, deepen the soil profile accessed by corn plants, improve water infiltration into the soil or increase crop yields, cover crops deliver on those promises.

So as Earth Day rolls on by, give a shout out to those innovators who continue to advocate for farming practices that save the air, the water and the earth…while adding to your bottom line.

 

Exceeding with Interseeding

When you think about planting this spring, consider whether you might want to include annual ryegrass seed in the mix.

More producers are adding an annual ryegrass seeding in late spring, planted between rows after corn has reached mid calf to knee height.

Interseeder

Interseeding makes sense for a number of reasons. First, it’s a more reliable time to plant, rather than the fall, worrying about whether the weather will hold out long enough to establish a cover crop before freeze up.

Annual ryegrass will germinate quickly between the young corn crop, if there’s enough moisture. When the corn grows tall enough to shade the cover crop, the annual ryegrass goes dormant for the summer. Then, after harvest, the ryegrass takes off with whatever light is left in the fall. Having established it in the spring, there is an established root system, so the growth in the fall can be significant….perhaps even enough to graze, if that’s in your plan.

Interseeded cover crops have a better chance of wintering over because they were established early in the year. The crop will be there in the spring after the snow’s gone, and you can graze it again before killing it at about this time of year, before planting corn again.

Dan Towery, a longtime consultant to the Oregon Ryegrass Commission and a pioneer in cover crop agronomy, is an expert on interseeding in the Midwest. Any questions, give him a call. In Indiana, he’s at 765-490-0197.