Tag Archives: forage crop

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?

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.

Videos about Successful Annual Ryegrass Planting and Forage Applications

Two of the most popular videos on the Ryegrass Cover crop YouTube site are:

In the first, Mike Plumer and others talk about the basics of no-till with cover crops. Mike, the late (and great granddad of cover crop reintroduction in the Midwest) Illinois agronomist, was instrumental in getting farmers to try cover crops. He was also among the first to begin to quantify the economic and environmental benefits of annual ryegrass.

Video frame - Annual Ryegrass

In the second, Don Ball and Garry Lacefield introduce the basics of developing a successful forage program on your farm. In this segment, they talk about annual ryegrass, because of its ease of development and its superior nutrition. Dr. Ball is a professor emeritus from Auburn University; Dr. Lacefield is a professor emeritus from the University of Kentucky. The pair wrote a very popular book: Southern Forages, now in its 4th printing.

Video - Forage Keys to Profitability

While you’re checking out these basics, you might also want to check out other free resources on the annual ryegrass website. Click here.

Annual Ryegrass as a Forage Crop

The Alberta (Canada) Agriculture and Forestry department encourages livestock producers to plant annual ryegrass as a forage crop. Here’s a link to the entire article. ARG Chris B 45 days 10-15 to 12-30-2005

In essence, they say that ryegrass and other annual crops provide flexible feed sources for livestock. Ryegrass has the advantage of being a quick crop to grow to extend grazing in the fall and/or spring.  It can be used as emergency forage if alfalfa is killed during the winter. It establishes quickly and produces a lot of forage in a short amount of time.Of course, excess can also be stockpiled as feed.

When managed intensively, ryegrass can be very productive, the article says. It goes on to say: The fact that the crop has little or no dormancy makes it an ideal fall pasture as it continues to grow and maintain its quality well into the fall, making them useful in extending the grazing season.

In areas with very cold winters, annual ryegrass will often be eliminated by winter weather. But if it does winter over, it grows back quickly in the spring for continued use by livestock. But if the crop will be replaced by corn, for example, eliminating the annual ryegrass is imperative. Click here to review the proper management of annual ryegrass in the spring.


Mississippi State U expands forage species testing; New companions to old favorites like Annual Ryegrass

Until 2007, the forage testing program at Mississippi State University was limited to annual ryegrass. Nothing wrong with that particularly but producers continued to urge research agronomists to look at other species and varieties.

Then Rocky Lemus was hired and since then, the program has blossomed.”MSU has the only complete forage testing plots in the United States,” Lemus said. “We have 20 different species, 110 varieties and four different locations.”

Read the whole article by clicking here.

Rocky Lemus, associate professor of forage systems with the Mississippi State University Extension Service and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, leads the MSU official forage variety trials with plots containing 20 different species and 110 varieties at four locations across the state. (Photo by MSU Extension/Kat Lawrence)

Above – Rocky Lemus, associate professor of forage systems with the Mississippi State University Extension Service and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, leads the MSU official forage variety trials with plots containing 20 different species and 110 varieties at four locations across the state. (Photo by MSU Extension/Kat Lawrence)

Four different locations are used for test plots; both warm and cool season species are tested. And from the basic annual ryegrass, the mix of new options for livestock forage has expanded geometrically.

“Warm-season perennial grasses include bermudagrass and bahiagrass. Sorghum-sudangrass hybrids and pearl millets are summer annual grasses. Annual ryegrass and small grains (oats, wheat and cereal rye) are common winter annual grasses. Perennial cool-season tall fescue is grown extensively in the Prairie sections and in north Mississippi. Perennial legumes include sericea lespedeza.”

And legumes are also being tested, Lemus said. Annual lespedeza and alyce clover are warm-season annual legumes while alfalfa, white clovers and red clovers are perennial cool-season legumes. A large number of cool-season annual legumes include crimson, ball, berseem and arrowleaf clovers. Vetch and wild winter peas also are cool-season annual legumes.

Oklahoma State Extension Says Annual Ryegrass Excels

An article today in the McAlister News-Capital advises stock producers to consider annual ryegrass as a forage crop to promote healthy steers and balance sheets.

The author, an OSU Extension agent, said that annual ryegrass can be grazed in both the fall and spring, although the fall yield will be less:  900lbs of forage in the fall versus between 2 and 3 tons of forage from March through May – with added nutrients to the crop – and thus, “helping to reduce the winter feeding period.”

He said the nutrition value of annual ryegrass is high: “when in vegetative state, it will on average have a protein content of 12-16%.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Click here for a more comprehensive guide to growing annual ryegrass forage.


Cover Crops and Grazing in Your Future?

A Pennsylvania Extension educator has shown that intensive grazing on cropland low in organic matter can rebuild the soil quickly – in a matter of a few years in some cases. The cover crop and grazing practice also led to a “drastic increase in cation exchange capacity and water holding capacity of the soil,” according to the author, Sjoerd Duiker. (Read the article by clicking here).

Cation exchange capacity (CEC) refers to the soil’s capability to store and then provide certain nutrients, like calcium and magnesium, to crops grown on the soil. While soil types tend to dictate a CEC range, building soil organic matter greatly increases the capacity for cation exchange. That, in turn, determines the productivity of the soil and how much fertilizer you need to add.

Duiker said he sees potential for increased profitably by bringing grazing animals back on the croplands in the US. Crop and livestock experts he talked to advised combining nighttime-grazing and daytime stall feeding to allow for continued high milk production (75 lbs/day).

In terms of cover crop varieties used, Duiker mentioned annual ryegrass mixed with triticale for fall and spring forage and other crops like tillering corn, sudangrass, sorghum-sudangrass hybrids and forage soybeans, cowpeas, brassicas and sunnhemp for the rest of the year. He said that perennials are “tremendous soil builders and the annuals add benefits such as meeting forage needs during the summer slump when the weather is hot and dry as well as in late fall, and are a break crop between an old and new perennial pasture stands.”

Cover Crops in a Semi-Desert? Seems so!

Midvale, Nevada receives less than 5 inches of rain annually. The Klein’s have started a no-till and cover crop experiment that they hope will ultimately do three things:

  • increase organic matter
  • reduce the need for irrigation
  • add substance and permeability to light, compacted soil

Click here for the full article, in No-Till Farmer.


In their first year of cover crop trials, 2013, the first-generation family operation (sugar beets,alfalfa, malt barley, beet seed, sheep and bees) planted a blend of cover crops, in June, to an acre parcel  on the edge of a center-pivot irrigation system.

The mix contained forage corn, sunflowers, sorghum, buckwheat, radishes, turnips, kale and some additional plant species. He seeded it at about 40 pounds per acre and then incorporated it with a harrow.

One thing that surprised them: the cover crop plants dominated other annual weeds and thrived, well into the fall, even after the first frosts. The second surprise: even after that one year, the soil in the acre of cover crop was “much more mellow.” And their sheep found the new crop tasty, which gave the Klein’s another possible source for supplemental forage value.

While tillage seems advantageous in the first year of cover crop planting, the type of equipment can be less aggressive. Eventually, the benefits to the soil will preclude the need for tillage, and far less water, they believe.

“The carrot at the end of that stick is better water infiltration and water-holding capacity. We have a gut feeling we’ll need less irrigation as soil quality improves, although it’s too early to confirm that,” said Richard Klein.

In 2014, the Klein’s planted five fields in cover crops, the largest of which was about 18 acres. By staggering the planting dates and using a GPS, they were better able to determine the best time to plant. This spring, they saw another benefit: the cover crop residue has reduced the impact of frequent seasonal wind storms on soil loss.



Annual Ryegrass Forage Story from Southern Canada

From the Canadian Cattleman magazine, a story from Alberta about a cattleman with an eye for steer health and profits. Click here for the whole article.

Andy Schuepbach, a registered Hereford breeder in southern Alberta, uses two varieties of ryegrass to provide fall and winter feed for his cattle. The high protein content of these grasses eliminates the need for any other protein source.

“We grow barley for silage, and after it’s seeded we seed 10 pounds of a mixture of Italian ryegrass and annual ryegrass. The Italian ryegrass has phenomenal feed value. We bale a little for our calves but use most of it for winter grazing,” he says.

The Italian ryegrass has fine leaves and is very palatable so young calves do well on it. Calves won’t eat coarse feed, and this grass is very soft. “We calve in February and March, and always struggle with ulcers in the calves. We have a lot of windbreaks and open-face sheds with bars across, halfway back, so the calves can get into the back part. This is where we set up a round bale with panels around it. The calves can eat the bale through the panel bars,” he explains.

Annual Ryegrass Forage in the Fall and Spring

Click here to access an article from a Missouri dairy specialist who advises planting forage crops in the fall to supplement feed stocks with healthy grasses and grain foliage.

Extension agent Ted Probert said, “Annuals are useful in extending the grazing season into late fall and early winter and can also provide the earliest available spring grazing. Small grains including wheat, rye, triticale and oats are old standbys for annual forage production,” he said.

He also advised livestock owners to consider annual ryegrass as another species to consider for winter annual forage production.

“Ryegrass is not as early as cereal rye regarding spring grazing but will usually start growth earlier than most perennial pasture species.” An advantage of annual ryegrass, he said, is that it’s productive life into the spring as a forage is longer than winter annuals.

But, if you’re also using the annual ryegrass as a cover crop, planning to follow it with, say, a corn or bean crop, naturally you’ll want to terminate the annual ryegrass a couple of weeks in advance of spring planting of cash crops. Click here to view the annual ryegrass management guide for more details of that.