Tag Archives: deep rooting

How to Pull Nitrogen into Corn with Annual Ryegrass

One of the dozen benefits from planting a cover crop like annual ryegrass is to sequester, or uptake, available nitrogen (N) in the soil. This is accomplished mostly by reducing the amount of N that leaches out of the field over winter and spring.

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Annual ryegrass is among the most popular cover crops for a variety of reasons, including erosion-proofing your crop acres. Before that, it germinates easily and grows well in cool weather, whether planted in the fall after corn harvest or interseeded with corn in the spring. If planted in the fall, it maximizes root growth and N uptake before cold weather limits growth. If interseeded, it establishes among knee-high corn then goes dormant in the shade of a corn canopy, then goes to town after fall harvest.

Perhaps the biggest asset of annual ryegrass is the depth of its roots. In no-tilled fields after a few years to work its wonders, ryegrass roots can be found to depths of 4 and 5 feet, far below other cover crops. But even in new-to-cover-crop acres, ryegrass roots can easily sink to 3 feet over the winter, breaking up compaction on the way to accessing nutrients deeper in the profile.

But further savings can be realized when considering that annual ryegrass (and other cover crops) sequester available N in their leaves and roots. Then, once terminated in the spring (with glysophate), the cover crop residue composts in the field, releasing N just when the corn needs it most, in late spring and early summer. With a cover crop like this, you can reduce your input of N fertilizer by up to  half, depending on other factors.

Learn more about the benefits of annual ryegrass by clicking here.

 

 

 

Ryegrass, Good for a Climate Goin’ Through Some Changes

Science tends to win out over guesswork. Few would disavow centuries of medical experience in favor of hocus-pocus and suspicions. Similarly, those with decades of working the soil tend to heed the sciences pertinent to agriculture, rather than winging it based on something you heard from your brother-in-law.

So, whether the science of climate change is spot on, there’s little question that weather continues to be a major factor in growing healthy crops. Storms may be getting stronger, so it’s crucial to protect your most valued asset: the soil.

Corn Plant on Field

Annual ryegrass protects the soil from erosion throughout the year, because the soil is never fully exposed to the wind and heavy rain. Infiltration of water into the soil is improved, thus increasing the reservoir of moisture for later months. And when flooding does occur, cover crops like annual ryegrass will slow it down, and keep the event from washing out field tiles. Cover crops keep the moisture in the watershed, instead of it washing downstream, carrying  precious nutrients.

No-till and cover crops also provide soil integrity, allowing the roots and other organic matter to create an environment of stable health. As a living entity, the soil environment stays in place better when bad weather occurs if you’ve got it covered with a cover  crop..

When it turns dry, cover crops tend to reduce oxidation of the soil, and to provide a longer period before the soil dries out. Annual ryegrass roots being far deeper than other cover crops, it’s a safe bet that corn will flourish if annual ryegrass has been in the field for even five years as a cover crop.

Genetic engineering has played a significant role in crop durability and production. Coupled with no-till and cover cropping, agriculture in the Midwest is better equipped to withstand the changes brought on by climate variations, whether for the short term or permanently.

Recalling a Man Who Put Annual Ryegrass on the Cover Crop Map

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Mike Plumer was a guy who made sure he knew what he was talking about before he’d open his mouth. He didn’t tout his academic degrees or his professional experience as much as giving you the benefit of his PERSONAL experience.

When it came to cover crops, Mike was out in front of practically the whole country. With his friend Ralph “Junior” Upton, Mike began to experiment with no-til and cover crops. Junior’s land, hilly with some bottom land and featuring a lot of fragipan layering, was as good a place to start as any.

What Mike and Junior noticed almost right away, back in the early 1990s, was that annual ryegrass was easy to germinate. It tolerates being wet, so the bottom land blossomed. And, though he approached this next step carefully, he saw that annual ryegrass killed easily in the spring, provided you do your homework on killing it properly.

One of the biggest surprises, however, was how deep annual ryegrass roots grow over the winter. Because the seed is raised in Oregon, on wet soils, the roots don’t need to grow deep to flourish. But in the Midwest, the moisture and nutrients are way deep sometimes, and annual ryegrass goes after it.

Thirty years hence, the Midwest continues to adopt cover cropping slowly, but surely. Farmers understand economics, and cover crops make money, in several ways. They improve soil quality, so the harvest is fuller. Annual ryegrass sequesters nitrogen, so you save on fertilizer input. And cover crops store carbon and build organic matter, which makes the land you own that much more valuable when it comes time to sell.

Mike Plumer, may he rest in peace. Who knows, perhaps there’s an Extension Service in heaven, and Mike’s been put to work building healthy futures there, too.

Click here to view a helpful powerpoint presentation Mike put together in his last years.

 

Nitrogen and Carbon – Two More Benefits of Annual Ryegrass

In the last blog post, we addressed the myth of annual ryegrass being hard to manage. Follow good control procedures and it is not an issue whatsoever.

Two other assets of annual ryegrass: it creates a savings in expenditures for nitrogen during the season, and it adds considerably to the organic matter in your soil, thus boosts your carbon uptake in the soil as well.

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First thing: nitrogen is a key to production. In years past, when cultivation was more popular, nitrogen was increasingly important and expensive. Now, with annual ryegrass as a cover crop, you can actually plan on reducing your nitrogen input. Why? Because annual ryegrass sequesters available nitrogen in the soil during it’s growth. Then, when it’s terminated in the spring, the residue gives up the stored nitrogen, often just in time for the new crop of corn. In many cases, having annual ryegrass decaying in the field means reducing or eliminating the nitrogen boost in June.

Secondly, as the annual ryegrass roots decay (after the cover crop is terminated in early spring), the result is more organic matter, which means more carbon sequestered in the soil, plus more food for a health soil biology.

Finally, when the roots decay, it leaves the earth more pliable, easier for rain to infiltrate, and easier for corn roots to follow. Because annual ryegrass roots grow to depths of five feet and more, it allows corn roots to access that same depth, beyond compaction and into more nutrients like P and K.

It’s amazing that cover cropping, despite it’s proven benefits, is still practiced so infrequently. While it’s great to learn that in some states, 10 percent or more of farmers are using cover crops, it’s discouraging that upwards of 90 percent are still relying on older ways: deep ripping of depleted soils and adding more fertilizer than would be needed if cover crops were utilized.

Whipsaw Weather Calls for Prayers…and Cover Crops

The coldest April on record to the hottest May on record…the Midwest can’t catch a break! Now mid-summer, people wonder whether more radical weather or trade and tariff issues will derail the current crops in the field.

Perhaps this is slim solace for those worried about what’s in store from Mother Nature and the Government, but cover crops are one thing that can continue to bring balance and health to farm acreage.

Annual ryegrass, for example, is among the easiest cover crops to establish. Grown in Oregon, in soil known for its wet feet, annual ryegrass is suited to poor soil and poor growing conditions. Likewise, when the weather turns dry, corn roots can access deeper moisture because annual ryegrass has established channels through even hardpan soil.

Thus, to build your soil’s health is the best strategy, so that whatever comes, the productivity and yield on your acreage will be maximized by having a consistent practice of cover cropping.

 

Annual Ryegrass Eliminates Fragipan Scourge

Fragipan, that compacted soil preventing crop root penetration, covers an estimated 50 million acres of farmland in the eastern US.

Tillage, even deep ripping, didn’t begin to contend with the deeper compaction and layers of fragipan.

Then in the late 1990s, as the idea of no-till agriculture began to gain more attention, an Illinois farmer began to experiment with annual ryegrass to begin to contend with erosion on his hilly acreage.

Junior Upton, Jr. began with a test plot of annual ryegrass. Working with soil agronomist Mike Plumer (U. of Ill. Extension), they believed that annual ryegrass would grow well in low pH soil (like fragipan) and build organic matter because of the vast mat of roots thrown out by annual ryegrass.

He planted the grass seed after harvesting corn and then eliminated the crop a few weeks before planing corn again in the spring.  In a Farm Journal  story a few months ago, by Chris Bennett, he quoted Mike Plumer about that experience with Upton. “In just the first year of use, we saw (annual ryegrass) roots 24″ to 28″,” said Plumer. “The second year was 30″. After four years rooting, (the annual ryegrass root measurement) was at 60″ to 70″,” Plumer added. In normal fragipan, soybean roots often only reach 12″, but after five years of annual ryegrass, Plumer recorded soybean roots at 36”.

The article (click here to read the whole thing) goes on to say that after killing the annual ryegrass, the roots decay and leave a network of channels for corn or soybeans to occupy. With continuous no-till, the channels created by annual ryegrass allow corn and soybean roots to push deeper each year.

Another discovery: As root depth increases, yields also expand, as Plumer explained . “On Junior’s farm, we’ve got some fields 16 years in the making. His corn yields, before we started, were at a five-year average of 85 bu. per acre, but after six (additional) years (with annual ryegrass cover cropping), he was over 150 bu. per acre. After 10 years, he was over 200 bu. per acre, and it is all documented,” Plumer says.

And the miracle of annual ryegrass continued. As the depth of corn and soybean roots grew, Upton and Plumer measured a remarkable increase in soil nutrients being pulled from deeper soil up to service the crop. “The ryegrass went so deep and picked up phosphorus and potassium. We were doubling and tripling the phosphorus and potassium tests without making applications,” Plumer added.

Annual Ryegrass Plugging Through another Winter

While the temperatures plunge and the snow whirls, annual ryegrass top growth has been dormant for months. But under the freeze, the annual ryegrass roots continue to flourish, adding depth, girth and mass to a system that builds healthy soil in numerous ways.

Corn roots in ARG 6-06 Starkey

The depth of rooting alone is a benefit, because it opens channels in the soil profile. Those channels, next spring and summer, will allow corn roots to seek deeper veins of nutrition and moisture. Even in a dry year, corn that goes deep will continue to thrive. And, with any normal precipitation, those root channels will help the soil absorb the rainfall rather than allowing it to run off.

Annual ryegrass has an appetite for nitrogen, too, so it becomes a storehouse of nitrogen when it grows. Then, in the spring, after it is killed with herbicide (before planting corn or beans), the nitrogen stored in the residue becomes a fertilizer for the hungry corn plants. And the massive root structure of annual ryegrass, when it is killed, that mass degrades and decomposes, increasing the carbon content and organic matter in the soil, giving worms and microbiological organisms a food source.

Because of annual ryegrass’ nature to sequester nitrogen, it’s place in the crop rotation allows you to lighten up considerably on nitrogen inputs.

For more information about annual ryegrass, why it’s beneficial and how to manage it successfully as a cover crop, you can check out this free four-page management guide. Or you can click here to view a series of YouTube videos on the subject.

Annual Ryegrass…Let it Grow, Let it Grow, Let it Grow

Songwriter Sammy Cahn, who wrote “Let it Snow, Let it Snow…” will probably rise up out of his grave to object the the following, which we’ve amended to be a promotion for cover crops!

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but in the soil it’s more delightful. With a cover crop now installed, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

The roots show no signs of stopping, and the earthworms continue their dropping. So with the ryegrass over wintering, watch it grow, watch it grow, watch it grow.

When we planted that seed last fall, oh we wished it would grow til spring. And if we manage it all just right, next year’s profits will ching-a-ching ching.

So as the climate gets warm and drying, the soil’s health you be eyeing. Add cover crops to the mix, and see productivity go, go go!

Merry Christmas from the Oregon Ryegrass Commission! And have a healthy and prosperous New Year.

Trick or Treat – Annual Ryegrass as a Cover Crop Delivers Both

Growing a cover crop like annual ryegrass has immense benefits, as you have no doubt learned. Thus the “treat” this Halloween is in the form of tangible revenue that growers receive from annual planting of cover crops:

  • Improved soil conditions – without tillage, soil health continues to grow. With cover crops, that growth is accellerated
  • Fewer inputs – less tillage, fewer passes over the soil, less compaction and fewer dollars spent on fertilizers, like nitrogen
  • Deeper soil profile, opened up by the deep, penetrating roots of annual ryegrass, allows better access to moisture in dry years and migration of deeper layers of nutrients
  • More profit – when the soil is happy, crops are happier, and production increases.

Halloween photo

The “trick” of annual ryegrass, as with any cover crop, is learning the details of new management techniques. The seeding of cover crops and the management of annual ryegrass in particular, in the spring, are very important. If managed poorly, annual ryegrass can become a pest, a weed. But as you learn the tricks, management becomes almost second nature.

For more information about growing and managing annual ryegrass, click here.

Annual Ryegrass Seed Sources

Annual ryegrass is a tool for improving soil health and increasing crop yield. In fact, annual ryegrass is like the durable Leatherman tool – just one application to fix a lot of problems.

  • Annual ryegrass puts an end to erosion and the loss of precious topsoil through your tile system and into the nearby waterways. In doing so, you are improving water quality and air quality at the same time.
  • The cover crop has deep roots that break up compaction, accessing nutrients and moisture in deeper soil. During dry years, this helps keep corn from shriveling up in the heat, creating drought resistant plants.
  • Using annual ryegrass also boosts organic matter by providing lots of decaying roots in a more friable soil. More food for the critters that inhabit healthy soil.
  • Among other attributes, annual ryegrass also sequesters nitrogen available in the soil, helping conserve it for use when the corn needs it in the spring, after the ryegrass has been terminated. This saves you money on the amount of nitrogen you need to add during the year.

But like every tool purchase, the buyer must beware. Just as there are Leatherman copies that are cheaply made and don’t last long, annual ryegrass also comes in varieties that are better designed for the tough work of Midwest cover cropping systems.

Take a look at the list of growers and suppliers at this link.ARG Chris B 45 days 10-15 to 12-30-2005 Do some research and, if you have questions, call those who grow and sell annual ryegrass seed. Many of them have invested countless hours and considerable resources in developing varieties of annual ryegrass that are hardy over the winter. That helps to keep something growing year round and prevents wind and water erosion.