Tag Archives: management of annual ryegrass

Terminating Annual Ryegrass Effectively – the 1st Time

The first important step in controlling annual ryegrass used as a cover crop is the timing of the burndown.

  • It is best done when the plant is small, 6-9” in height, and preferably before the first node has developed. Typically, this happens in late March to late-April depending on weather and farm location.
  • Make sure the crop is actively growing, so as to optimize the uptake of the herbicide (glyphosate).
  • Daytime minimum temperature should be at 55 degrees (F) and above 60 is better. •  If night temperatures drop below 38, wait three days before spraying. • Soil temperatures should be above 45.

Early termination of the cover crop makes control easier and reduces the amount of residue into which you’ll plant corn or soybeans.

  • Early control also facilitates soil dry-down, allows for significant decomposition of annual ryegrass residue and release of nutrients for uptake by the corn or soybean crop.

Some growers have found it easier to plant into the annual ryegrass first and then apply a burndown. Warmer weather conditions improve glyphosate activity and planting into green vegetation has been successful, and is often easier than planting into a “half-dead” cover crop.

Warm temperatures and actively growing annual ryegrass plants are a must for effective control.

  • Use a thorough spray coverage using moderate spray pressure and a medium spray droplet size. Don’t use air induction spray systems or nozzles that produce coarse droplets.
  • The application rate should be about 8-12 gallons per acre.
  • Spray at least 4 hours prior to sunset to allow for maximum translocation of the glyphosate within the plant.
  • While one burn-down herbicide application often provides control of the annual ryegrass. Inspect the results and then be ready for a second application if needed. (If you use too weak an herbicide solution, it will make the plant more resistant and more difficult to control later.)
  •  Apply glyphosate at 1.25-1.50 lb a.e./a with ammonium sulfate and surfactant. Follow label directions carefully with respect to pH and mixing order. It is important when adding ammonium sulfate, buffering agents or water conditioners that they be added to the full spray tank of water and agitated for 3-5 minutes before adding the glyphosate. Additional NIS surfactant, if called for, is normally added last.
  • Weather conditions affect how well glyphosate controls annual ryegrass and a second application may be required.

 

Time to Terminate Annual Ryegrass Cover Crops

The fields may already be clear of snow. You may already be noticing that the annual ryegrass or other cover crops are starting to show life. Watch carefully and be vigilant about terminating the crop before the grass reaches the “joint” stage.

Here are a couple of timely resources to help you figure out the timing, the right chemicals, the right dosage and whether or not you need to spray again. It’s best to get it right with the first application but there is a plan B should the first spray application not do the trick.

ARG burndown

Click here for a free management brochure about annual ryegrass.

Click here for a quick guide to successful burndown of annual ryegrass.

Click here to learn about the residual effect of herbicides on corn and beans.

Satellite Imagery Helping Cover Crop Productivity

GPS and satellite technology have given agriculture a big gift, one that keeps on giving. With precision farming, growers now plant and fertilize based on field data and guidance systems calibrated to deliver the right input to the right locations. Productivity increases faster than costs, or at least that’s the goal.

Even a decade ago, there were only so many satellites and they were expensive to access the data for personal use. But now, nanosatellites scarcely bigger than a lunch pail provide far greater coverage at a fraction of the cost. Their low orbits and high resolution cameras give accurate, full time coverage. More importantly, the type of data available allows for greater application of data synthesized from aerial and ground sources.

satellite image cropland

Remote sensing is able to detect variability in soil and crop conditions.High-resolution, “multi-spectral” photos help understand what’s going on in the fields, and help reduce crop inputs. Pest and weed control are easier and less expensive. Imagery and field data help growers schedule harvest to maximize yields.

The latest in a new array of these tools is a collaborative effort called OpTIS (Operational Tillage Information System). Combining satellite and various on-the-ground data gathering methods, growers can now access information that allows field-specific tracking of crop residue management, types of tillage and cover crop use and value.

OpTIS uses multi-spectral satellite imagery to measure wintertime vegetation on agricultural fields and combines this information with site-specific knowledge of crop rotations and cover crop management practices. Images taken throughout the year are converted to show estimated cover crop coverage, the amount of cover crop residue, the type or classification of tillage practice, monitoring seasonal changes in cover crop residue and compiling all this with data from the field, the watershed and the wider county level.

According to a presentation by Applied GeoSolutions, LLC, about the OpTIS system, “Proximal sensors and on-farm sampling are used to calibrate imagery interpretation, and hyper-spectral, biophysical models are used to understand the impact of various components of ground cover (vegetation, soils, crop residue, and shadow) on field reflectance.  Using these methods, USGS researchers can map cover crop performance at the watershed scale and improve the understanding of conservation outcomes associated with various cover crop management strategies. This information is used by farmers and conservation agencies to promote adaptive management of winter cover crop programs to maximize environmental benefits.”

In a pilot program last year, OpTIS was used in a small number of Indiana watersheds. Based on initial feedback, the program will broaden this season to more sites in that state as well as other sites in Ohio, Illinois, and Iowa, according to Dan Towery, whose work with the Indiana Soil Health Management project intersects with the OrTIS project.

Towery also said that the data available will help growers understand more about their varied soil types, help them gauge the impact of cover crops on building organic matter in the soil, and even better understand how to adjust management practices more accurately based on annual precipitation.

 

 

 

Annual Ryegrass Video Series – for beginners and intermediate cover crop users

soil pit2The experts said it back in 1998, that no-till and cover crops were a winning combination for corn and soybean growers. Ten years later, a series of videos were done to introduce the idea and bring basic understanding of the what and how of cover crops. Back in 2005, the idea that a cover crop could sink winter roots down to 50 inches or more was revolutionary in the ag industry. Today, the practice is becoming widespread in the Midwest. The videos stand up to the test of time, and continue to be a solid source of information.

In the first video segment, you can get a glimpse of the main characteristics of annual ryegrass, and a couple of its major benefits.

Root depth: “Better than a deep ripper, in terms of its ability to break up compaction,” said Dan Towery, of Ag Conservation Solutions, an Indiana consultant on soil health.”Far deeper than other cover crops,” said Mike Plumer a former university agronomist and pioneer in cover crop development in the Midwest.

Nitrogen scavenger: those who use livestock manure in the field benefit by having the nutrient stay in the field.
“Annual ryegrass is a great nitrogen scavenger,” said another cover crop pioneer in Indiana, Dan DeSutter, …keeping it in the field instead of sending it down the tile lines in the spring with runoff.”

If the videos are of some interest, perhaps you would also like more information about the science and the management of annual ryegrass. If so, click here for a free brochure. Or, click here for a library of information on the annual ryegrass website.

Annual Ryegrass – a Christmas Gift that Keeps Giving

MO-Matt-Volkman-NRCS-ARG-field-shot1.jpg

With snow covering a lot of the Midwest this month, cover crops like annual ryegrass have a good chance of wintering over. That means continued activity in the soil, even if the vegetative part of the plant is dormant.

Annual ryegrass roots can dig all winter long, extending to a couple of feet or more by springtime. In the winter, the roots permeate compacted soil and open it up for better water infiltration and biological activity. These are important aspects of soil health and crop production next summer.

Here’s a recent article on annual ryegrass and other cover crops, from the Farm Journal, that outlines some basics in choosing a cover crop, some tips on selecting varieties and a lot of encouragement to try it out…even on a small test plot, until you get the hang of the management changes necessary for adding cover crops on a big time basis.

Here are a couple of other resources about annual ryegrass, how to grow it, where to get it, and how to terminate it in the spring.

 

 

Annual Ryegrass Has Important Benefits

Farm Progress published a management guide for growing cover crops…it’s available FREE online. Click here. (You will be asked to fill out the information they want – name, email address – before emailing it to you free.)

Cover Crops: Best Management Practices

Here’s part of what the report says about annual ryegrass:

Today, farmers often hear about annual ryegrass and cereal rye grain as popular cover crop choices. It’s important to know the differences of each of these cover crops. Annual ryegrass is a versatile cover crop choice that will protect the soil, reduce soybean cyst nematode populations and hold nitrogen through the winter. Annual ryegrass – which is often referred to as “ryegrass” – has about 33% more roots than cereal rye and provides higher quality feed than cereal rye grain. Annual ryegrass is lighter than cereal rye grain and farmers and custom applicators using high clearance, drills, spreaders for dry fertilizer and airplanes can seed more acres before having to refill than if they choose cereal rye. Annual ryegrass needs to be seeded in August into early and mid-September, depending on location and the weather, while cereal rye grain can be seeded later in the fall, often into October. That, of course, also depends on the weather and location.

If you regularly plant cover crops, it’s probably a safe bet you’ve planted by now. If you’re considering planting a cover crop for the first time, looking at Farm Progress’ Management Guide is a good start. You can also find tons of detailed information about growing and managing annual ryegrass by clicking on this link, which will take you to the annual ryegrass website.

Or, click here to look at videos that discuss various aspects of managing annual ryegrass.

 

New Midwest Incentives for Cover Crops

Among other things, Dan Towery manages the Indiana part of the Soil Health Partnership, a network of innovative farmers in eight Midwest states. Dan has been a consultant for the Oregon Grass Seed Growers Commission that promotes use of annual ryegrass as a cover crop for more than a decade. He has been a steady voice for conservation agriculture since he graduated from Western Illinois University.

Dan was a staff agronomist for the Conservation Technology Information Center and was state agronomist in Indiana before joining the staff of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In recent years, Dan’s been tireless making connections – both one on one with Midwest growers – as well as nationally and in other countries, with leaders of industry, policy and conservation. That work created a natural space for him on the board of the International Soil & Water Conservation Society board for 6 years. He was selected as its president in 2012 and 2013.

This past growing season, the Soil Health Partnership conducted more than 40 field days in eight states, attended by more than 1500 farmers, eager to learn from each other the details of managing cover crops. The field days covered subjects like cover crops and other soil improvement methods, as well as equipment, nutrient management and other topics. The initiative, sponsored by the National Corn Growers Association has also gained tremendous support of a dazzling variety of groups including Monsanto, NRCS, the United Soybean Board, the Walton Family Foundation, the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy.

In September, largely because of its effective promotion of conservation tillage in the Midwest, the Soil Health Partnership learned that it won a $1 million Conservation Innovation Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grant funding will help to quantify the gains being made by farmers using cover crops and other conservation strategies, according to a news release from the organization.

Farmers enrolled in the SHP program will be invited to participate in the carbon reduction incentive system, in which growers are paid by corporations to sequester carbon in their soil, according to the article.

“This is a great opportunity for farmers to continue being a part of the solution to carbon sequestration, and gain financial incentives for carbon-smart ag practices like growing cover crops and using minimum tillage,” said Nick Goeser, NCGA director of soil health and sustainability and director of the SHP. “We hope to provide businesses with a quantifiable method to reduce their carbon footprint by increasing these on-the-ground conservation practices.”

Farm Progress Show Features Cover Crop Ed

The annual Farm Progress Show was held in Boone, Iowa, again this year, and cover crops were a popular topic of conversation.

According to a blog post by Practical Farmers of Iowa, it appears that “we’ve turned a corner with cover crops.” Basically, cover crops are becoming common knowledge, even if adoption is still lagging behind somewhat. The organization that boasts the slogan: “Don’t Farm Naked” wants everybody to keep something green on the fields year-round.

MO-Matt-Volkman-NRCS-ARG-field-shot.jpg

At the Farm Progress Show, a variety of growers spoke to the crowds about their experience with cover crop varieties, seeding methods and impacts on production. Cover crop research expert Sara Carlson also addressed those with questions about management of cover crops.

Practical Farmers has also come forth with new trial information on cover crops, specifically the use of cereal rye in rotation with corn and soybeans. Their findings include the fact that cover crops DO NOT negatively impact crop yields – unless you mismanage the cover crop. In fact, their study shows that cover crops can INCREASE yields, especially in soybeans. Take a look at their study by clicking here. 

While Practical Farmers does not look specifically at annual ryegrass, other research over the past decades has shown annual ryegrass to also be a boost for corn and soybean production. Annual ryegrass has the advantage over cereal rye in that it doesn’t have as much biomass in vegetation in the spring. Cereal rye can be a problem when planting corn or soybeans into a dense, freshly-killed mat of cereal rye. For more information comparing annual ryegrass and cereal rye, click here.

Cover Crop Entrepreneurs

The National Wildlife Federation published a long article a couple years ago that caught my eye. It was the first publication that talked about the potential for rural ag communities to profit from the growing business of cover crops. Besides profiting from the benefits you see in the soil and in productivity, the article points out that some are profiting from their experience by becoming a supplier of cover crop seed, a crop adviser to others, helping others plant or terminate their cover crop or grazing fees.

The article also discusses the crazy history of cover cropping, and how the introduction of synthetic fertilizers and heavy machinery changed  America’s thinking about cover crops. Only in the last 20 years has our focus come back to the benefits of cover crops. What was interesting about the article was the many ways in which rural farm families can become active in the “business” of cover crops, not just the planting.

Websites like the Midwest Cover Crop Council feature more than 40 entrepreneurs. Many are called entrepreneurs simply because they have been innovators in the USE of cover crops. Some began with annual ryegrass or hairy vetch or cereal rye and then experimented to find the best fit for their acreage, weather and crop rotation.

But some, like Jim and Jamie Scott, from northeast Indiana, also saw the potential to translate their first-hand experience with annual ryegrass and other cover crops into a side-business. While he and his family still farm about 2000 acres in and around Pierceton, Indiana, he has added to his income by arranging to fly on cover crop seed for other nearby farmers. He contracts for the seed to be delivered to a nearby airport, has a pumper truck there and contracts with pilots to fly on the seed in late summer, while corn and beans are still in the field. Aerial seeding has largely replaced the old drilling method of applying cover crop seed. At last count, Jamie’s company was coordinating the seeding of about 60.000 acres. Doing so, presumably, has created additional cash flow for his business.

Loading annual ryegrass seed - Cameron Mills' custom seed loader; Townsend Aviation plane and pilot.

 

In like fashion, others have turned their knowledge and experience into additional revenue by becoming an adviser to neighboring growers who are just getting started in cover crops. Besides earning a few thousand extra dollars a year, those entrepreneurs are also helping to spread the use of cover crops quickly, which then helps other growers realize the benefits of cover crops.

Incidentally, the Midwest Cover Crop Council’s site has annual reports of cover crop useage for each of the Midwest states. It provides a lot of information about who’s doing what: in research and in practice. Click on the state you want and then look for the latest reports. Here’s Indiana’s report for 2015.

Mike Plumer – Granddaddy of Modern-day Cover Crop Advocacy

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before we had met Mike Plumer, he already had more than a decade of advocacy and research into no-till farming and cover crops, especially annual ryegrass. At the time, Mike was an Extension Educator with the University of Illinois, a post he held for 34 years..

We, in Oregon, where 90 percent of the world’s ryegrass seed is grown, had no idea that Mike Plumer was about to give the industry of agriculture an immeasurable gift, while giving the annual ryegrass seed growers a new reason to get up in the morning.

Plumer, working with an innovative Hamilton County, Illinois farmer named Ralph “Junior” Upton, helped quantify the benefits of annual ryegrass in “siltpan” (Bluford) soil. Upton was concerned about the productivity on parts of his 1800 acre farm, where the compacted soil restricted the root growth of corn and soybeans. He wondered if going no-till and adding cover crops might improve productivity.

Plumer began testing on Upton’s farm and quickly discovered what we in Oregon didn’t know – that annual ryegrass roots grow through and permeate compacted soil. Better than that, the roots then extend downwards to a much as five feet, creating new pathways to moisture and nutrients for corn and bean crops to follow.

Since 2004, Upton has seen dramatic changes in his corn yields., according to a USDA profile on him. He says no-till saves him around $15 an acre. Using cover crops costs $8-$20 dollars an acre but it is well worth it. The amount of organic matter in Upton’s soils started at less than 1 percent (.81). That level is now up to 3 or 4 percent. “And that’s exactly what I needed for my soils on those fields,” Upton said.

Since then, Plumer has experimented all over the Midwest (as well as contributing to agriculture internationally) and become the best known cover crop advisor in the country. Below are a couple of very informative power point presentations developed by Plumer, which outline both the benefits and the precautions of annual ryegrass and other cover cropping system. Visit the annual ryegrass by clicking here.

Managing Annual Ryegrass 

Cover Crops in Illinois: Why Use Them?