Tag Archives: no-till agriculture

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.

How to Plan for Annual Ryegrass Cover Crop Application

At this point, with corn and soybeans growing to maturity, adding a cover crop this fall can be done in two basic ways: broadcast the seed or drill it.

Broadcasting cover crop seed takes place while the major cash crop is still in the field, towards the end of the season.

    • Aerial seeding is perhaps the most efficient. Seed is delivered to a nearby airfield and loaded in a plane equipped for dispersing a variety of seed types into standing corn or beans.
    • High clearance equipment is outfitted with seed spreaders on long booms. Van Tilberg 2011 Hi-Boy Seeder2

 

The challenges in broadcast application often depend on the equipment. For example, you would need to research your area for an experienced pilot with the proper adjustable seeding set up. Likewise with high clearance equipment: while do-it-yourselfers retrofit their equipment for multipurposes, others find the solution in renting equipment or contracting the application of cover crop seed.

The edge that high clearance equipment has over aerial is twofold: precision and certainty. Whereas planes can be grounded because of weather, rolling equipment has few restrictions in that area. Likewise, aerial application can sometimes create voids in coverage due to seed drift, utility infrastructure and property lines. High clearance equipment, on the other hand, can deliver seed reliably and consistently to every corner of your field.

Drilling Cover Crop Seed used to be the standard in cover crop planting but has become less popular because of one basic reason. The timing for drilling is a problem for many, given the uncertainty with weather after harvest, when drilling is done. Cover crops need passable fields and a month or more of good weather to establish. Broadcasting usually removes that barrier because is is done before harvest takes place.

For more on the topic of seeding annual ryegrass and other cover crops, visit the Annual Ryegrass Website, and specifically the various publications on growing and managing the cover crop.

Increase Your ROI 266% with Cover Crops

Some say that in a down economy, planting annual ryegrass or another cover crop is too expensive. The managing editor of No Till Farming magazine just published an article that shows otherwise.

Based on data from Ken Rulon, who farms more than 3000 acres in Arcadia, Indiana, you can’t afford not to plant cover crops. Not only  does it protect and build healthy soil, prevent erosion, reduce compaction, increase infiltration of rain and snow melt, boost organic matter and microbial activity….it also boosts profits!

Read the article here, by managing editor Laura Barrera, posted earlier this month.

varner arg michigan 4-08 (2)

 

Glyphosate and Monsanto Clear The Hurdle

An alternative health blogger known as Food Babe has been going toe to toe with Monsanto for years, trying to get traction with consumers on the dangers of glyphosate…Monsanto’s RoundUp.

She has postulated that glyphosate, even in minute traces per billion, causes cancer. But in a recent rebuttal from Snopes.com (an independent, myth-busting organization made up mainly of scientific journalists), they report that the scare tactics leveled by Food Babe are “FALSE”.

RoundUp logo

The federal EPA agency began looking at glyphosate in 1985, and by 1993 concluded it is carcinogenic. They talked about the herbicide’s ability to become waterborne and thus get into drinking water, as well as foods that live in soil exposed to glyphosate.

Since then, it was shown that studies linking cancer to glyphosate relied on concentrations of the chemical that were way out of proportion with amounts that are used in agricultural applications. Recent tests that show potentially adverse effects at lower exposures are also suspect, as peer review has raised questions about scientific methods and data validity.

In March of 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said that glyphosate “may have some carcinogenic potential” but, the consensus among the world’s regulatory agencies, according to the Snopes.com article, is that glyphosate “is safe for consumption and non-carcinogenic at environmentally relevant levels.”

Consequently, the World Health Organization concluded: “Glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”

Click here to review the Snopes.com article.

Killing Annual Ryegrass Cover Crops Adds to Soil Organic Matter

Cereal rye is a great cover crop. Sometimes, however, the amount of biomass in the spring creates difficulty for drilling corn seed. The excess vegetation can impede proper planting and can also take moisture out of the soil that crops will need this summer.

Annual ryegrass doesn’t create as much biomass,The residual left by the annual ryegrass after burndown quickly decomposes into the no-till soil. It becomes food for soil critters and microorganisms. And the massive root network slowly decomposes too, building organic matter. The channels created by ryegrass roots become channels for corn roots. The combination of root channels and more organic matter allows better infiltration of rain. but it is important to spray the crop out in a timely fashion.

Corn roots in ARG 6-06 Starkey
Annual ryegrass, if let grow too long, can be more difficult to kill. And letting it go to seed is asking for trouble…nobody wants to contend with a cover crop that gets away.

Last week’s blog discusses the proper guidelines for applying herbicide to kill the cover crop. Here’s a linkto the management guide where those instructions are.

 

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.

 

 

 

Seeding Annual Ryegrass as a Cover Crop

Need…the mother of invention.

Since the beginning of the cover cropping boom, in the 1990s, innovators have been making continuous improvements to cover crop seeding technology.

Part of the drive to innovate was the need to extend the window of opportunity for the cover crop to survive. Seeding annual ryegrass after harvest didn’t reliably leave enough of a growing season to establish the crop before winter.

Late Summer or Fall Seeding

  • Aerial seeding allowed growers to put down cover crop seed while the corn was still in the field. The seed would germinate and establish as the harvest took place, opening up the annual ryegrass to fall sunlight and precipitation.
  • Highboy equipment was adapted to do the same thing as planes, and perhaps with a bit more accuracy
  • Lately, growers have been mounting air seeders on combines, in those locations where seeding at harvest does leave sufficient time to establish before freezing weather
  • This technique takes advantage of doing two things with one pass, saving precious time and money.

Spring Seeding

  • The practice of “inter-seeding” began in Quebec and has quickly taken off in the US. The idea, discussed previously on this site, involves seeding cover crops like annual ryegrass after the corn has reached about knee high (v 5 – 7). That gives the grass an opportunity to establish before the shade of the corn puts it into a kind of dormancy for the summer.
  • It seems that ongoing research has shown that too much shade can kill the grass. So the innovators are suggesting to plant a shorter variety of corn (less than 7′ tall at maturity) or plant the field at a rate of about 32,000 corn kernels/acre. That will give a bit more sun filtering through for the grass.
  • Once the corn is harvested in the late summer, the ryegrass – dormant for the summer – quickly resumes its growth before fall
  • This technique has an advantage over fall-planted cover crops simply because it has more time to establish before cold weather.

Annual Ryegrass – At the Root of it All

The Dust Bowl crippled the Great Plains states in the 1930s and 40s because of poor soil management in the decades before that.

The mistakes made were partly because of economics – farmers were rewarded for expanding their acreage in order to satisfy the demand for corn and wheat to supply troops in World War I. But the mistakes were also due to the fact that most farmers did not understand the effect of plowing under the native prairie grasses to make room for cash crops. And, after World War II, the popular thing was to make use of the bountiful supply of anhydrous ammonia (high in nitrogen) for supplying the nutrients lost to oxidation and erosion.

Annual ryegrass is akin to those native prairie grasses in at least one respect: they all have very deep roots. And, as you know, it is the roots that protect the soil surface from erosion. Modern agricultural methods include cover cropping, which prevents nutrients from eroding off the property. No more waste of topsoil; less need for adding nutrient inputs to bolster anemic soil.

Corn roots in ARG 6-06 Starkey

The other key factor with annual ryegrass’ deep roots is that they seek moisture and nutrients in deeper soil. Roots grow to depths of 6 feet in some places. The benefit is that roots from ryegrass create channels for the corn and soybeans to follow. Once the cover crop is killed in the spring, the roots die and add to the organic matter in the soil, in addition to creating pathways for new rooting crops and infiltration of snow melt and rain.

The annual ryegrass website has tons of good information about growing this cover crop. There are videos, too, and you need only click here. Finally, No-Till Farmer magazine has an article that talks more about the benefits of annual ryegrass.

 

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.

National No-Till Conference – 25th Anniversary – Features Lots of Cover Crop Ed.

This year’s annual National No-Till Conference – Jan 10 – 13 – in St. Louis is perhaps the best ever. Here’s the link to the website. Click on the image below to see the entire prgram listing.

NNTC17 Program Cover

For you cover crop fans, here’s a listing of the speakers, classes and roundtable discussions about cover crops. There are plenty available on each of the three days of the conference.

Wednesday

Speakers

  • Ray McCormick, Indiana, 2400 acre grower, all no-till w/cover crop
  • J.C. Cahill – U of Alberta…how plants talk to each other and how knowing that might be important for your farm.

Classes

Ray Weil, U of Maryland soil scientist

  • Improve crop access to water and nutrients
  • Keep more N on your farm – research on how cover crops help N mgmt.
  • Boost soil bio processes in deeper layers

Ray McCormick, Indiana, 2400 acres, all no-till with cover crops

  • Adapting equipment for use in seeding cover crops
  • How to do it inexpensively ($13/a).

Dan Towery and Hans Kok, Indiana/Illinois

  • Interseeding cover crops into corn
  • Adding wheat to your rotation
  • Planting 8 – 15 way cover crop cocktail after wheat…and how that could produce a double digit increase in corn and soybean yields while cutting your N application rates in half.

Egon Zunckel, South Africa

  • Mitigating poor water infiltration, erosion and stagnant yields with a variety of practices, including cover crops
  • Introduction of livestock to help manage large amounts of crop residue.

Seth Watkins, Iowa

  • Cover crops, prairie strips, buffers, native grasses, terracing, crop rotation and rotational livestock grazing – protecting soils while building organic matter quickly and boosting profits.

Jim Johnson, Noble Foundation soils consultant

  • Grazing cover crops – how to get started
  • Research results from a variety of states.

Ten No-Till Round-table discussions on Cover Crops, including:

  • From the North Plains states, to NE and Mid Atlantic
  • Great Lakes and Ontario
  • Southern and High Plains
  • Midwest states: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri.

Mike Plumer – Making Sense of Cover Crop Mixes

  • When does one cover crop – or two or three – make more sense than a cocktail of mixes?
  • How to balance cost with needs?
  • Determine what soils need before making decisions about seed.

Thursday

Joe Breker, ND grower (spoke at inaugural No-Till Conference in 1993)

  • Cover crops in northern climates
  • Slash input costs with improved organic matter, banding fertilizer and cover crops.

Mike Plumer – Tips for Terminating cover Crops more effectively

  • How to do it effectively and save yourself headaches?
  • How weather, seed varieties, growth states and herbicide choices factor in?
  • Why to avoid the Variety Not Stated (VNS) label?

Alan Mindermann, Oklahoma

  • Use cover crops to help mitigate the effects of unpredictable weather and limited moisture
  • How to track moisture and herbicide applications while making rotation decisions?

Robert Kremer, Ag Research Center, MO

  • Impact of cover crops on suppressing weeds and weed seed banks.

Roundtable discussions

  • Making the Right moves with Cover Crop mixes
  • Seeing the Potential in Cereal Rye Seeding
  • Getting out of the Starting Gate with Annual Ryegrass
  • Turning Up No-Till Diversity with Radishes

Friday

Round-table discussions

  • Tips, Tools for Timely Cover Crop Seeding
  • Cover Crops that Cut Your Fertilizer Bill.

Randy McElroy, Sustainability researcher at Monsanto Co.

  • Transform soil with a variety of tools, including cover crops.