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Annual Ryegrass – Best Friend of Deep Cover Crops

In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, 90 percent of the world’s seed for annual ryegrass is grown. Because the water table is so high, the roots need not go far for moisture. In the Midwest, it’s a different story, and that was the first major “AHA” of its widespread adoption as a cover crop.

Over the winter, annual ryegrass roots can reach to depths of five feet, although the first year will probably not produce that depth. But over a span of five years, the channels built from successive years of annual ryegrass use will provide new access for deeper growth the next year.

For this and other reasons, Indiana farmer Cameron Mills says annual ryegrass is the best cover crop out there. “Annual ryegrass still gets a fair amount of bad-mouthing,” he said at a recent conference in Oregon, where many of the ryegrass seed growers were in the audience. “The important thing is, you have to keep getting good information out there about annual ryegrass to balance the negative. One thing you hear is that it is hard to manage. Well, that’s not true either, but you do have to manage it carefully.”

Annual ryegrass, he continued, solves a lot of problems, such as erosion, depleted organic matter, compaction, annual weeds and soybean nematodes. But to get it to work for you, you must be flexible about when you apply the seed and when you terminate it.

And as for terminating it, you have to be very conscientious that the herbicide used to terminate it doesn’t remain in the soil very long – commonly referred to as herbicide carryover; otherwise, it could inadvertently retard the growth of the next round of cover cropping. See below, two fields planted on the same day, only a mile apart from one another. One field shows healthy growth, and the herbicides were generic Bicep II and Impact. The other field, where Halex GT was used, is almost barren of cover crop. Mills said that there’s nothing wrong with Halex GT…it’s a great herbicide, but you must pay attention that the herbicide used doesn’t carry over into next year’s cover crop season.

Non GMO Seed and Cover Crop Management

Cameron Mills, a grower from Walton, Indiana, spoke a couple months ago at the annual Oregon Seed League conference. Among his surprising messages:

  • Moving away from GMO seed is a sound economic move
  • Glyphosate is under threat from consumers and we’ll have to adapt – but it certainly won’t put an end to use of cover crops
  • Big Ag is moving in the direction that consumers demand – “regenerative” ag
  • Introducing beef into the Midwest mix is very profitable

These days, Mills said, consumers are driving change in ag. “They want to know where products are produced, how healthy they are, and how safe,” he said. And consumers around the world are speaking ever louder that they’ve had enough of GMO.

Mills said that after 23 years of pushing GMO, the tide is moving against it. So instead of fighting the tide, Mills has grabbed onto Non-GMO full time, in a hurry. And, he made a convincing argument that Non GMO is a darn sight less costly than going with the “Magical Seeds.” See below.

He said that with the per/acre savings, there’s a better Return on Investment with Non-GMO. So what difference does it make if the GMO seed outproduces the Non-GMO seed by a few bushels/acre? By the way, he said “magical seed” doesn’t always perform to it’s promise anyway. His farm of almost 4000 acres – corn, soybeans, triticale, wheat and beef cattle – is 100 percent Non-GMO and he’s been in continuous cover crop since 2006.

In terms of cover crop choices, Mills says he likes annual ryegrass a lot, and it has helped him reduce damage on his fields in spring when he wants to get out and start planting, even when it’s still a bit wet.

In the next blog, we’ll talk about other topics he discussed, including how to apply cover crops, how to manage and how to learn to adapt quickly with Plan B, C, and D. Farming on the fly? Not exactly, but flexibility is important…and experience helps grow confidence in being flexible.

Cover Crop Management – Spring 2020

It’s time to think about getting in gear for cover crop season in the Midwest.

If you’re starting out with cover crops for the first time, here’s a handy, comprehensive Management Guide we put together a couple years ago.

If you’re familiar with cover crops, then you’ll know that spring is the time to get rid of the remaining cover crop in preparation for corn or soybean planting.

  • If the cover crop is still alive, glyphosate is the best way to kill it. Follow herbicide instructions to the tee, as you don’t want to come back and kick its butt a second time…because it gets harder.
  • Check out the specifics in our Management Guide.

For added tips, Here’s an article from Successful Farmer, which covers the benefits as well as some advice about types of covers to consider in the future.

Annual Ryegrass – Turning The Big Ship of Agriculture Around

In December, cover crop guru Dan Towery came to Oregon to address a conference of growers and suppliers about the history of annual ryegrass in the renaissance of cover crop use in the Midwest.

His message had one of those “good news/bad news” stories. The good news: the number of acres planted in cover crops has grown steadily since the introduction of annual ryegrass in the late 1990s. In fact, the annual rate of increase has reached as high as 15 percent.

The bad news: the overall percentage of ag acres committed to no-till and cover crops is still very low, compared to the number of acres planted. See the graphic below.