Tag Archives: seeding cover crops

Finding Good Annual Ryegrass Seed for Cover Crops

In a mild winter, even the old standby varieties of annual ryegrass will make it through to spring in the Midwest.

But in a harsh winter, those same varieties of annual ryegrass will die in the severe weather, freezing and thawing, stiff winds and little to no snow.

But over the past 20 years, seed  growers in Oregon have developed varieties that are hardier in the winter. Not to say that annual ryegrass is bullet proof, but there are a half dozen varieties that significantly outperform the older varieties that are still popular in the south for sports arenas, golf courses and lawns.

Check out this seed source publication Loading annual ryegrass seed - Cameron Mills' custom seed loader; Townsend Aviation plane and pilot.before you commit to your seed purchase this year. Oregon growers are knowledgeable and friendly. Many have spent tons of time and money developing these varieties of annual ryegrass, and they’re pleased to talk about it.

Cover Crops and Carbon Penalty

In a recent issue of Ag Web, sponsored by Farm Journal magazine, an article written by Darrell Smith covered some ideas and advice given by the magazine’s resident agronomist, Ken Ferrie. The following paragraphs caught my eye:

Cover crops can reduce corn yield by acting as weeds in the row and by tying up soil nutrients when they decompose. “If cover crop plants are allowed to grow in the corn row, the corn plants see them as weeds, and it creates stress,” Ferrie says. “Stress lowers yield potential. The longer weeds and corn plants grow together in the row, the greater the reduction in ear size. Even if you take out the weeds, or the cover crop, a few weeks later, the damage has been done. Yield potential has been lost, and you will never get it back.” 

He goes on to say, “Another source of stress on young corn plants is the carbon penalty. When cover crops are killed, the influx of carbon in the residue leads to a higher population of soil microorganisms. They temporarily tie up soil nitrogen and other nutrients, leaving corn plants to go hungry in the critical early weeks. If a cover crop has a high carbon/nitrogen ratio, the longer it’s allowed to grow in the spring, the more residue and the higher the carbon penalty.”

This seems to make sense until you look at a couple of basics:  In most cases, cover crops are planted in the fall,  just after harvest or, increasingly, when the corn is still standing but already matured. (An exception is the relatively experimental “interseeding” of cover crops in the spring, after the corn is about knee high).Thus, the planting of a cover crop in August or September or October would have no bearing whatsoever on yield.

It appears that he may have planted another cover crop in the spring, because the fall planting had winter killed. Then,because of the bad spring weather (2014), he didn’t plant the corn until the end of May, six weeks after normal. He planted into a relatively new cover crop which, of course, would compete for available nitrogen. Then, as it turns out, he didn’t put any ‘starter’ nitrogen on the corn when he planted, but instead waited until weeks later when he sprayed glyphosate to kill the cover crop.

When he concludes that the reason for poor yield was because of “carbon penalty” (residue from dead cover crops creating more microorganisms and thus tying up nitrogen) it may in fact be more due to the anomalies in his experiment that year.

In any case, it’s important to remember to give corn plants a boost of nitrogen when planting – somewhere between 30 and 40 units. And if you’re planting into an existing cover crop, make sure you add the N then, not waiting until you burn down the cover crop, perhaps a month later.

 

Return on Investment from Cover Crops – 266 % – say Indiana Farmers

No-Till Farmer magazine just published a great article that quantifies the benefits of cover cropping. In this case “quantifying” means translating more than a decade of field data into dollars saved.

The article (click here) looks at data collected by two Indiana family farmers as well as the NRCS. The pair presented the data at this year’s Iowa Cover Crops Conference. Look at the following charts. The first contains the costs for cover crops – seed and planting: about $26/ac.

The second chart looks at the benefits: fertilizer saved, corn yield increase, soybean yield increase (less disease), drought tolerance (a 10 year average), increase in organic matter and erosion reduction. Ken Rulon, one of the farmers, said that the “return on investment” has been 266 percent, with a net benefit/acre planted at $69.17. Even if he had gotten only half the benefits, it would still be profitable, he said.

Retrofitting Equipment for Cover Crop Seeding

When corn was knee high this spring, a growing number of producers tried “interseeding” annual ryegrass into the cash corp. We’ve talked about interseeding before and will continue to cover it as we gain more experience in field trials throughout the northern cornbelt.

Interseeding means planting annual ryegrass, or another cover crop seed, into standing corn early in the season, in this case June. The practice has become quite popular in southern Canada, above the Great Lakes.

In this photo, a grower has mounted a Gandy linear seeder on an old rotary harrow, with some of its tines removed. In this case, the grower was able to cover about 20 feet in one pass. The retrofit cost him about $11,000.

2015 Harrow retrofitted as a CC seeder

So far, only a small number of cover crop advocates in the US have tried interseeding, but more education about how and where to plant will entice others to try it too. The advice at this point is that if you’re located north of I-70 or, roughly, north of Indianapolis, you have a good chance of interseeding being profitable.

The reason a cover crop like annual ryegrass will work in those conditions are these:

  • Planted in the spring, even if wet like this year, annual ryegrass will germinate under the foliage of immature corn.
  • Later, with corn shading the ground beneath, the annual ryegrass will go semi-dormant.
  • After harvest this fall, the added light will jumpstart the cover crop again and, with established roots from the spring, the ryegrass will have a better chance of weathering a difficult Midwest winter. 

There are some distinct advantages of this kind of cover cropping system. First is timing. Fall time is often busy with harvest activities, hence cover crop seeding can get left until too late. Or, even if aeriel seeding into standing corn, if the Midwest is experiencing dry weather, cover crops can struggle to get established in the fall.

But there are also cautions about this type of cover cropping. First, if the summer is dry, the combination of no light and no water for the young cover crop, it can perish in the field before corn is harvested. Secondly, there are still questions about whether this kind of crop would jeopardize a farmer being able to qualify for insurance payments, should there be a crop failure because of drought, say.

 

Check out the Ryegrass Videos – lots of great info for beginners!

Some years back, the Oregon Ryegrass Commission produced a series of nine videos that detail aspects of growing annual ryegrass as a cover crop.

Here are the links to the first videos in the two series:

Once you view the first, the YouTube site will list the others in the series. You’ll get great basic information as well as helpful tips from cover crop experts and growers who have mastered the management aspects of this cover crop.

Learn how annual ryegrass benefits soil health, then how that translates into profits at the end of the year, with better production for corn and soybeans.

Cover Crops – Annual Ryegrass Sales Grow Even in Bad Weather

Cover cropping continues to grow in popularity and in acreage simply because it builds soil quality, improves yields and adds to profits.

That mother nature doesn’t always cooperate hasn’t diminished the appetite for producers seeking to get on the most popular new farming trend in a half century.

In a presentation a couple years ago, cover crop pioneer Mike Plumer, showed the reasons why cover crops are increasingly important as a farm management tool, particularly in the Midwest. Mono-culture crops have starved the soil of nutrients while sending immense quantities of soil into nearby waterways, eventually contributing to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the Earth’s largest known dead zones due to heavy pollution from farm runoff into the Mississippi river.

Beginning in 1995, the Oregon Ryegrass Commission, working with Plumer and a handfull of farmers, began to experiment with annual ryegrass in barren cornfields over winter. Since then, Oregon growers have created more winter hardy annual ryegrass grass varieties, as well as finding other cover crops, like radish and crimson clover.

Though the percentage of farm acreage in the Midwest committed to cover crops is still below 10 percent, it’s impressive that cover crops now cover millions of acres of corn and soybean acres, building soil quality, preventing erosion and improving production yields.

This past fall, seed dealers and distributors were ready. But the wet conditions and late harvest prevented some from getting the fields planted, according to Dan Towery, another cover crop consultant and colleague of Plumer.

For those times, farmers are increasingly going to new methods of planting cover crops: flown onto standing crops late in the season, for example, or broadcast with modified high-clearance sprayers equipped with seeders. Still others are trying a novel approach called interseeding, where annual ryegrass is planted in the SPRINGTIME, rather than the fall.  Click here to find out more about that program.

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.

 

 

Annual Ryegrass and Cover Crops – No “Bad” Years

Last winter’s cover crop season was disappointing, said Nick Bowers, a pioneer in the cover cropping revolution and a partner in the Oregon-based KB Seed Solutions.

Even though newer varieties of annual ryegrass are hardier in tough weather, the winter of 2013/2014 was “the worst in 25 years,” he said. “When you have winter wheat and cereal rye not surviving a winter, you know it’s been severe, and that’s what we saw last year.”

Nonetheless, his sale of cover crop seed hasn’t been hit too badly. And that’s because of two things:

  • The popularity of cover crops has continued to attract farmers trying cover crops for the first time, even as some disappointed by their first try may decide to step back a year or so before trying it again.
  • The number of seasoned cover crop users has also continued to grow. Even though they may not see 2014 as a good year for their cover crop, they’ve seen plenty of evidence of its cumulative value to push forward…taking 2014 in stride, knowing that cover crops won’t be a winner each and every year.

“Those who’ve been in the cover crop program for more than three years are sold…they’ll never quit,” Nick said, “because they’ve seen the benefits in better crop yields and improved soil conditions.”

His advice to new adopters of cover crops has always been to “be cautious, start simple.” He worries that with new government incentives offered, growers will jump in without enough information or experience. He suggests planting small plots of cover crops and check strips, so as to compare results side by side in a field.

But those farmers with whom Nick has been working now for over seven years all tout the virtues of staying with the cover crop effort. “One guy who had years of erosion problems was saying that the water leaving his fields is now cleaner than when it arrived,” he continued. And that’s only the beginning of the benefits, Nick said.

Seeding Annual Ryegrass in Manure Slurry

Tim Harrigan, University of Michigan associate professor and agronomist, has developed farm equipment to deliver cover crop seed as part of a tank of manure slurry.

Livestock farmers have excess manure; planting a cover crop creates the perfect way to dispose of the excess nutrients to benefit a newly seeded annual ryegrass cover crop. With a cover crop on the field all winter, it holds the nutrients in the field, in the soil, instead of it leaching into nearby waterways. Then, when the annual ryegrass is terminated in the spring, it has tons of “scavenged” nitrogen to give to the oncoming corn or soybean crop.

Harrigan devised a way to deliver both the seed and the nutrient slurry together in one operation. “Combining several farming operations into one saves farmers time and money, at a time (fall) when we’re pressed to get all these things done,” Harrigan said.

Check out this video of the operation: http://tinyurl.com/5va5n5q