Tag Archives: seeding cover crops

Biomass and Cover Crops

Biomass refers to what’s left over in the fields once your cover crop has been terminated. Biomass is a crucial element in soil chemistry, as well as in the overall health of your land.

There are two basic elements to the biomass equation: the root mass that is produced during the life cycle of the cover crop; and the residue left on the surface of the ground after the cover crop has been terminated in the spring. The surface residue is useful to the new cash crop, whether corn or soybeans, because in decay, it gives back nitrogen to the juvenile cash crop growing there. Use of annual ryegrass as a cover crop can effectively cut the amount of nitrogen you apply to corn in early summer because of the nitrogen it gives back to the soil.

But it is the subsurface biomass of cover crops that are most important to soil health and, ultimately, the productivity of the field. The slow decay of the root structure continues to feed the microorganisms in the soil, and also helps to create a soil structure that let’s corn roots grow deep and water to soak in, rather than running off.

Over a period of years, the University of Nebraska did field studies of different cover crop species in different soil types, to measure the amount of biomass produced. In all cases, it was annual ryegrass that produced the most biomass of all cover crops. They refer to annual ryegrass as “rye” but that is distinctly different than “cereal rye.”

The following two paragraphs from a recent Successful Farming article talk about the value of annual ryegrass compared to other cover crop species.

In eastern and northeast Nebraska, the pre-harvest planting achieved the biomass threshold, producing on average 1,900 to 2,500 lb/A of biomass by late April to early May, whereas the rye planted post-harvest produced approximately half of that amount. Pre-harvest planted cover crops had lower emergence than post-harvest planted cover crops, but had more time to grow and tiller, compensating for low populations. In south-central Nebraska, both planting times reached the threshold, but the post-harvest planting produced more biomass. This site receives less rainfall in the fall, restricting the emergence of pre-harvest cover crops.


Overall, the mix biomass was lower than the rye biomass. The brassicas in the mix winterkilled, and hairy vetch and winter pea produced very little growth. Thus, the mix can be thought of as rye planted at 30 lb/A. Despite this low seeding rate, the mix produced more than the threshold biomass at the south-central sites in both planting times, and at the northeast site in the pre-harvest planting.

The article also distinguished between planting the cover crop before the harvest (broadcast from a high-clearance rig or aerially) or after harvest (seed drill). Generally, the drilled seed has a better record of emergence but, because of being planted later, it still doesn’t produce the biomass of the earlier broadcast seed.

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.

Thinking about Annual Ryegrass This Year?

It’s still not too late to consider starting a cover crop on your acreage this year. In fact, August may be an ideal time to broadcast seed.

In years past, the use of fixed wing aircraft to apply seed has been increasingly popular. Fast and effective, you can put seed on 1500 acres in a day if you have the seed located close to your fields.

Jamie Scott owns a 2000 acre farm and he started using annual ryegrass more than 10 years ago. He now  helps newcomers get seed on their field by contracting the purchase and application of seed by plane. This year, his company arranged for more than 100,000 acres of cover crop seed to fields owned by more than 400 growers.

Here is a quick reference guide to questions about application by plane.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAScott said that the cost is comparable to broadcasting seed with high clearance equipment or by drilling after harvest. The advantage of aerial application is that you fly it on before harvest, rather than afterwards. That gives you at least an additional month for the cover crop to establish.

The proper time to apply seed depends on a few things – crop maturity is the most important. Condition of the soil and the amount of rainfall are the others.

For more information on aerial seeding, check out information on our website, here. You can also watch a video on the subject, by clicking here.

Or, you can also download a management brochure that explains elements of the process.

In the end, knowing someone who applies cover crops each year is a good resource for getting answers that will pertain to your farm.

 

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.

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Annual Ryegrass – Deepest Rooting of any Cover Crop

By now, with winter around the corner, your cover crop is already going to work to secure topsoil from the erosive qualities of run off and wind. (If you don’t have cover crops on all your acres, it might be interesting to compare how bare topsoil, or even crop with residue laying on top compares with a health cover crop field.)

Annual ryegrass, researched now for more than 20 years (throughout the Midwest, parts of the East coast, upper south and into southern Canada), consistently ranks first among cover crops in terms of deepest roots. Why is that important?

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

  • Deep mining of nutrients. After generations of plowing, the top foot or more of soil is depleted of nutrients and organic matter. Annual ryegrass roots access nutrients deeper in the soil profile, providing health to the crop but also limiting the amount of fertilizer inputs needed. The residual root mass, left after the crop is terminated in the spring, continues to feed the microbiology of the soil and create crucial organic matter.
  • Compaction. Annual ryegrass roots grow right through compacted layers of soil. After the roots die each year, corn and soybean roots can follow the same channels created by annual ryegrass. Eventually, the compacted layer is so run-through with root channels, the compaction is completely permeable, allowing roots and infiltration of moisture.

For more information about the benefits of annual ryegrass, click here.

Corn roots in ARG 6-06 Starkey

Annual Ryegrass Seed Source

Click here to review an updated flier about where to buy annual ryegrass seed.

Why buy from the grower? Two main reasons:

1. Buying from the grower means you have direct access to the ones most knowledgeable about the variety you buy. That’s important because each variety has growing characteristics that can enhance its productivity.

  • You want it to germinate quickly and to establish before winter
  • You want it to winter over and be resistant to cold temperature.

2. Most of the Oregon growers have decades of experience in how their seed performs in the Midwest. Most have spent many years working with Midwest farmers in testing their products against other varieties.

  • In most cases, you can get a tremendous amount of information about growing annual ryegrass as a cover crop or forage crop from these companies.

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.

 

Aerial Seeding Annual Ryegrass

Planting annual ryegrass or other cover crops in the fall is tricky. Weather determines when the harvest arrives. If the ground is wet, the harvest can be delayed. If winter arrives early, there may not be enough time to plant a cover crop. That leaves the field subject to erosion, unless you’ve protected it with no-till and prior cover crops.

Farmers find aerial seeding of cover crops a better fit with their schedule. While there are issues involved with aerial seeding – how to avoid wind-drift onto neighboring farms; the cost of hiring a plane or finding a high-clearance rig with a seeder – the advantages seem to outweigh the hurdles.

By seeding annual ryegrass into standing corn or beans, you have a better chance of getting the cover crop established before winter. There are risks, of course. Seeding when rain is expected will give the annual ryegrass something to germinate into…although annual ryegrass seed can lay on top of the soil for weeks without rain without any harm. The risk is that the crop germinates and then you experience a dry spell.

Once the harvest is taken from the field, the annual ryegrass can then flourish in full sunlight. This often gives you extra weeks for the crop to establish before cooler weather sets in and stunts the top growth.

For more information about broadcast seeding and the equipment – whether a plane or a high-clearance spreader – click here.

Loading annual ryegrass seed - Cameron Mills' custom seed loader; Townsend Aviation plane and pilot. Van Tilberg 2011 Hi-Boy Seeder2