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

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Interseeding Webinar – Seeding Annual Ryegrass and other Cover Crops in the Spring

This spring, the University of Pennsylvania conduced a webinar on the subject of interseeding.

As you may have read here in past blog posts, interseeding is done in the late spring, when corn and beans are sufficiently established (v 6 in corn) to plant annual ryegrass or another cover crop between the corn or bean rows. This planting is done with customized equipment – often a sprayer retrofitted with an air seeder. Some are combining this seeding effort with a side dress of nitrogen, to give the cover crop and the corn some boost.

 

2015 Interseeding MN

Interseeding has the benefits of being planted when there’s more time…trying to plant in the fall, around harvest, is often complicated with the harvest itself and sometimes weather. Interseeding has the added benefit of establishing a cover crop in the spring – which then goes semi dormant in the shade of summer foliage – and then its being able to get a good growth spurt in the fall after harvest. The early establishment of the cover crop thus increases the chances for the crop to survive the winter. It also acts as an effective weed suppressor.

Click here to access the webinar on interseeding.

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Cover Crops Benefit Soil Microbiology, including Fungus

Soil is alive…literally…and it hosts hundreds of thousands of different living organisms: insects,worms, microorganisms, bacteria, etc. Tilling in the old fashioned way strips life from the soil. Cover crops restore soil health and these different life forms are part of that important balance. Farmers realize that when the soil is happy, crops grown in the soil tend to thrive. Your soil, kind of like a dependent child, needs constant nurturing and healthy practices to grow strong and productive.

Part of that rich mix of life in the soil include Mycorrhizal Fungus. The fungi send out rootlike extensions (hyphae) which take up water and soil nutrients.  Plants produce sugars (polysaccharides) in their leaves and send them to the roots. Together, this symbiotic relationship produces a protein (glomalin) which captures and groups particles of organic matter, plant cells, bacteria and other fungi together. The soil takes on a crumbly texture, which creates the lightness and porosity that allows better drainage. Glomalin is a key part of important substances in promoting and stabilizing soil aggregates. It also aids in plant uptake of water and nutrients.

Glomalin - plant roots and mycorrhizal fungus

 

 

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Planting Annual Ryegrass as a SPRING Cover Crop

It may have begun in Canada, the practice of planting annual ryegrass as a cover crop into knee-high corn. Based on the pioneering work of cover crop innovators like Daniel Briere, an agronomist with Plant Production Quebec, hundreds of northern Corn Belt U. S. farmers are now doing likewise – planting annual ryegrass as a cover crop in the spring.

One of the biggest impediments to cover crop adoption has been planting them in in the fall after harvesting the main cash crop. Especially in the northern Midwest, where harvests can come off the field just before cold weather sets in, planting a fall cover crop has been difficult. Planting in the spring is therefore a great option.

Here’s a video of the equipment that’s being used to broadcast annual ryegrass when your corn is at five or six leaves. After it germinates and gets established, the annual ryegrass goes dormant for most of the summer because it is shaded by the corn. Then, in the fall, it takes off again, after harvest, and stays alive throughout the winter, provided there’s enough snow cover. Then, in the spring, the idea is to kill the annual ryegrass in the weeks before planting the next corn crop.

Interseeding equipment screen shot - JPEG

Although the idea of planting a second crop into the cash crop seems counter intuitive, it looks like the synergy of annual ryegrass and corn builds soil and adds bushels of extra corn at the end of the season.

Another benefit of interseeding is that, during corn harvest, the combine is rolling over the ryegrass, which further protects the soil from compaction and giving the combine added traction.

 

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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.

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Kill it Good…Annual Ryegrass is Your Friend until it Isn’t

Farmers have been successfully controlling annual ryegrass, as a cover crop in the Midwest, for more than 20 years. If somebody tells you “it’s a weed,” tell them politely, “Yes, I know, and it’s possible to control it if you know what you’re doing!”

Click here for our website page on successfully taking care of annual ryegrass in the spring.

Click here for our publication on  Annual Ryegrass management Recommendations (2016 version)

burndown

Here are a few tips from those online sources:

  • Don’t let annual ryegrass stay around too long in the spring: kill it before the “joint” stage when the grass is between 4 and 8 inches tall. By now, the grass is active, so watch it carefully to optimize herbicide effectiveness
  • Wait for the right weather: daytime temps above 55 consistently; no rain, preferably spray earlier in the day to allow for maximum uptake by the plant before sundown and cooler temps
  • Use the right sprayer: don’t use a sprayer with coarse droplets
  • USE THE RATE LISTED ON THE LABEL. Don’t scrimp here. You don’t want the herbicide to fail, then have to battle annual ryegrass that comes back with more tolerance.
  • Spray again if you see any lingering color after a week. Use another herbicide with a different mode of action
  • Getting the pH of the water right is important: add ammonium sulfate with a surfactant to the water BEFORE adding the glyphosate to the tank.
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Managing Annual Ryegrass as a Cover Crop

This past winter, annual ryegrass hardly went into dormancy….it was that mild. Of course, the value to the soil is multiplied in years like this, when ryegrass roots extend to depths of four or five feet.

Soon, it will be time to spay out the ryegrass, and it pays to do it right. Here are some tips for managing it properly. For more detail, click here.

  • Spray when the ryegrass has broken dormancy, and before it reaches 8 inches. Like lawn grass, if the cover crop looks long enough to mow, then it’s time to spray it with glyphosate.
  • Use a full rate of glyphosate in order to kill the grass on the first application. Keep an eye out to make sure it’s good and dead and spray again if there’s any regrowth
  • Wait for the right temperature and daylight to spray. Consistent daytime temps of above 55F is best. Gray, cloudy or rain…delay the spray.

Look at the website above for more details. And you can also download a free annual ryegrass management guide by clicking here.

ARG burndown

 

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Commodity Prices Tied to Cover Crop Usage?

Corn prices having fallen from $8/bu to about $3.50 has impacted farmers use of cover crops, at least some of them, according to Nick Bowers, a grass seed grower in Oregon (http://kbseedsolutions.com/)

Those new to cover crops are the ones taking a second look, he said. Considering all the inputs one must prioritize, cover crop seed might not make the list after fuel, fertilizer and pesticides.

Talking to hundreds of farmers at Midwest farm shows and field days, Bower finds that those who have been planting acreage with cover crops the past five years are not deterred by the drop in corn prices. “They’ve seen the value in cover cropping: improved soil structure and deeper moisture levels, the reduction of nitrogen inputs and the yield bumps they get with corn and beans,” Bowers said.

It takes three to five years planting annual ryegrass or other cover crops to begin to see a consistent benefit that translates into higher yield and profits.

Here’s a recent report from the Conservation Tillage Information Center (CTIC) about the value of cover crops, based on interviews with more than 3000 Midwest farmers. (The specific yield differences are discussed in pages 23 – 27).

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Indiana Roots with Annual Ryegrass Cover Crops

Soil and Water  Conservation Districts are getting more and more involved in the promotion of cover crops. The reason is simple: over the past 20 years, it has been shown that cover crops protect the soil in ways that no-till alone cannot.

Farm cover crop workshop turnout pleases organizers

(Photo: Rod Rose, Lebanon Reporter. A Boone County farmer discusses core samples comparing fields where cover crops are planted, compared to samples from fields without. He discussed the benefits of cover crops.)

Here are some of the reasons he mentions:

  • Leaving green in the field year-round prevents soil run-off and loss of precious nutrients.
  • The residue from past crops, including cover crops, becomes important food for the biological diversity of the soil. Likewise, residue begins to build the depleted organic matter and carbon carrying capacity of the soil
  • Deep roots – especially from annual ryegrass – break up compaction. This is so important in soils that prevent corn and soybean roots from going below the fragipan layer. Once broken, the corn roots can grow to depths of 5 feet and access moisture and nutrients…especially important in dry growing years
  • Annual ryegrass is a nitrogen sink, soaking up excess N when growing and giving it back to the soil when the residue decays in early summer, just when the corn needs it most
  • All these reasons add up to more profits – fewer field inputs, better soil health and bonus yields.

Here’s a link to that article, which mentiones annual ryegrass rooting capabilities, and the popularity of cover cropping systems in the Midwest.

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Soil Health Partnership Grows From a Desire to Thrive – Biologically and Economically!

The National Corngrowers Association started the Midwest Soil Health Partnership three years ago. Here’s what they say about the novel effort, supported at the beginning by Monsanto, The Walton Family Foundation and with technical support from The Nature Conservancy. Among its staff is Dan Towery, an agronomist from Indiana, who has been working with cover crops for decades and has been a consultant to the Oregon Ryegrass Cover Crop project for more than a decade.

This spring, the organization begins in its third year identifying, testing and measuring farm management practices that improve soil health. These include growing cover crops, practicing conservation tillage like no-till or strip-till, and using sophisticated nutrient management techniques.

 The program’s goal is to quantify the benefits of these practices from an economic standpoint, showing farmers how healthy soil benefits their bottom line. They also have positive environmental benefits, like protecting water from nutrient runoff.

Twenty-five more farms have joined the research effort, which could change the way the whole farming industry views agricultural best practices. The number of participating farms expands to 65 this year, located in eight Midwestern states. Data from farms will play a key role in widespread changes for improving soil health, said Towery, the Indiana field manager with partner Hans Kok, PhD.

From the Soil Health Partnership website, here is a goal statement:

Our ultimate goal is to measure and communicate the economic and environmental benefits of different soil management strategies, and provide a set of regionally specific, data‑driven recommendations that farmers can use to improve the productivity and sustainability of their farms. To that end, we plan to do the following:

  1. Recruit a network of demonstration farms 
    that will serve as showcases for other farmers to investigate innovative soil management practices, including reduced tillage systems, cover crops and advanced nutrient management.
  2. Establish research protocols that will allow us to measure the connection between a diverse range of soil management practices and soil health.
  3. Publish findings and recommendations 
    that highlight the economic and environmental benefits of healthy soil.
  4. Support networking and technical assistance 
    that will help growers and their advisors make decisions that will result in positive changes for the profitability of their operation and the sustainability of the soil.
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