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:

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Annual Ryegrass Seed Dealers List Update

See below for a list of participating Oregon annual ryegrass seed growers, who grow annual ryegrass varieties tested and proven effective in Midwest locations, particularly for winter hardiness.

The list has changed somewhat from last year. And this year, the varieties that have been tested for effectiveness in the Midwest are also listed. For a copy of the one-page flyer of the list, click here.

To go to the grower’s websites, click on the company name:

COMPANY WEBSITE                              VARIETY (2014)
Ampac Seed Company                            Bruiser
Cover Crop Solutions                              Tillage RootMaxTM
Grassland Oregon                                   Lonestar
KB Seed Solutions                                   KB Supreme, KB Royal
Lewis Seed Company                              King
OreGrow Seeds, Inc.                               Winter Hawk
Saddle Butte Ag                                      Bounty, Assist
Smith Seed Service                                 Ed, Marshall

Note: This is not an exhaustive list of growers or seed varieties.
Check our website for updates:

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Planting Annual Ryegrass – Tips for Success

The last blog post discussed the best planting dates for annual ryegrass, depending on whether you drill or broadcast with plane or high clearance equipment.

Many others are broadcasting annual ryegrass seed (after corn harvest) mixed in with manure slurry. This is a great solution for those raising livestock, looking for a way to recycle manure and a great source of nutrients for the young grass.

In some places, with ideal conditions, you can get a bit of grazing or a cutting before the end of the year. Otherwise, the return out of dormancy next spring will allow a grazing or cutting of annual ryegrass.

Using annual ryegrass as a forage – whether grazed or haylage – can provide additional savings on livestock feed, while providing a high quality food.

Here’s a link to a video on the application of annual ryegrass seed with a manure slurry.


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Annual Ryegrass – When to Plant and How Much is Enough?

If you use a no-till drill to plant annual ryegrass, you get better seed to soil contact, but the timing becomes crucial because of crop harvest variability. In the past few years, corn and bean harvests have been later and, in some cases, too late to plant annual ryegrass.

Planting with aerial seeding – plane or high-clearance equipment – can be done while corn and beans are still in the field. The seed lies dormant until sufficient rain germinates the cover crop. But because you’re seeding into standing corn or beans, you must use more seed.

The range of effective seeding rates is from about 12 lb/ac to about double that, if you’re broadcasting the seed. Some worry that applying too much seed will make it more difficult planting corn or beans into the cover crop residue the next spring. Thus, those people favor a lighter seeding rate. Even if the annual ryegrass looks thin in its top growth, the deep mat of roots are still doing their job in the soil, they say.

Others say that a heavier seeding rate is good insurance against harsher winters. Those with interest in using annual rygrass for forage will certainly want to plant at the upper rate of application.

In either case, annual ryegrass is among the least costly and most effective of cover crops. The cost for seed and application can easily be made up in the gains in soil health and increased crop production.

For more information about timing and rates of seed application, click here for a comprehensive brochure.

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Get Your Annual Ryegrass Seed Soon

Last year, with the growth in use of cover crops, seed suppliers seemed to find themselves low on seed when July and August came around. While supplies seem stable now, it would be a good idea to lock in your order soon.

Some apply it themselves, whether the old fashioned way, with a drill. In fact, that’s the surest way to get good soil to seed contact. But more often, growers are opting for aerial applications, whether by plane or with high clearance equipment retrofitted with a seeding boom. Both of these applications predate harvest, so as to get annual ryegrass on the ground with lots of time for optimum growth in the fall. Click here for a page of info on planting.

Here’s a link to a page with most of Oregon’s annual ryegrass seed growers. Many of them also grow other cover crop seed too, whether crimson clover or radish or another. Most, if not all, have staff available for free consulting. Many also have sales and crop consultants living in the Midwest.

One thing to ask the grower, or seed dealer: has this seed been grown successfully in the Midwest as a cover crop? This is a question that will get at two variables…the first – is it winter hardy? And the second – have you had any trouble killing the crop in the spring?

Aerial Seeding



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Annual Ryegrass Roots…”Go Dig!”

“My cover crop wasn’t green this spring!” Don Wirth’s answer to what sounded to him like a complaint was, “Go dig!”

His point: when annual ryegrass is established in the fall, it quickly sends roots down below a foot, even in fields that haven’t had a cover crop before. (In successive years, annual ryegrass roots can send roots to deeper than 40 inches, even when there’s only a couple of inches of top growth!) It is those roots that help prevent erosion. But that’s only the beginning. Deep rooting breaks up compaction, improves permeability. That’s still only the beginning. The biggest benefit is that cover crops improve soil biology, including a healthy population of earthworms and microorganisms. When that happens, crops thrive, production increases and costs for inputs go down.

A few years ago, he visited a Midwest farm in the spring, where no cover crop was evident on the surface. And yet, walking across the field, Don was able to point out where the annual ryegrass had grown the year before. It was as if a line had been drawn on the land. Cover crops had already begun to change the biology of the soil beneath. “I’m guessing that the field had very low organic matter content, so the addition of even a year’s worth of cover crop will make a significant difference in how the soil looks and feels,” he said.

Wirth, an Oregon grass seed farmer said there is a lot of reliable information now about the value of cover crops. But he heartily suggests that farmers be more informed about the health of their soil. He recommends reading Gary Zimmer’s book Biological Farmer, written in 2000. Here’s a short excerpt from the book’s description:

Biological farming does not mean less production; it means eliminating obstacles to healthy, efficient production. It is a safe and sustainable system designed to keep production up.
varner arg michigan 4-08 (2)

Wirth also suggests becoming more in touch with improving your soil’s health. He said starting with an inexpensive Solvita test (about $150) will give you some basics.

The test uses a couple of soil probes loaded with a certain kind of gel that reacts to soil chemistry. Among other things, the Solvita measures carbon dioxide emissions…mostly due to microbial respiration. The level of microbial activity indicates the amount of active organic matter that is being broken down and the amount of nutrients being released.

Measuring year after year will give you a chart of the growth in soil biology and organic matter. Overlay that on a record of crop yields and you’d have pretty convincing evidence about the connection between cover crops,
soil health and profits.





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Planting Annual Ryegrass into Knee High Corn

Interseeding Cover Crops in the Northern US

In recent years, growers and agronomists in Canadian Province of Quebec have been creating a “game changer” in agriculture, with the addition of cover crops, according to Dan Towery. In northern latitudes, with shorter growing seasons, cover crops haven’t been practical because of the small window of growing time after harvest in which cover crops could establish before winter.

By planting annual ryegrass into knee-high corn in the late spring, however, cover crops can now get established before the corn’s growth shades the cover crop. The ryegrass lies near dormant all summer, thus not competing for moisture. After harvest, the cover crop then resumes growth until cold weather and snow send it back into dormancy. Then, in the spring, the annual ryegrass is killed before the field is again planted in corn or beans.

The results are touted in an article published in Corn Guide earlier this year.

This spring, Towery is working with a number of growers in a variety of locations in the upper Midwest to see if the same technique will work. Planting a couple of acres at each location will yield some important data – about whether the annual ryegrass can survive throughout the summer in the upper Midwest, where temperatures are hotter and often with less rainfall than in southern Canada. Crop yield differences will also be noted, to see if ryegrass pulls too much moisture from the soil and thus reduces corn yield.


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Late Spring Planting

Late Spring Crop Planting

A wet spring and late planting aren’t necessarily a cause for gloomy predictions in the Midwest, according to Dan Towery. “Last year, the corn and beans were planted even later than this year, and there was a record yield…Indiana farmers saw corn increases of 20 bu/ac over the previous record.”  But 2013 was also  a very cool summer with not stress on the corn during pollination.

As of mid May this year, he said that about 70% of the corn and 30% of the beans have been planted. With a predicted good patch of warm weather ahead, and improved efficiency in planting technology, the crops will be in the ground soon. The risk of late planting is the corn pollination will occur during a hot dry spell, which may then reduce yield significantly, as occurred in 2012.

In general, Dan said there are benefits to “staggering” the dates of planting a bit. He used the analogy of putting all your investment dollars into one stock versus diversifying. “While diversifying may not give you the big payout…if the stock happens to go through the roof…it will give you more chances of modest gains and less risk of losing it all.” So planting all of one’s corn in a week means the potential of the pollination occurring at the same time and if that coincides with a hot spell, then yield take a real hit.

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Looking at Crimson Clover in Cover Crop Mix with Annual Ryegrass


Looking at Crimson Clover in Cover Crop Mix with Annual Ryegrass

Crimson clover’s peak potential to fix Nitrogen is just before it blooms. It can fix the most nitrogen (up to 135b/ac) in the soil at that time. But in a normal weather year, Central Midwest growers would terminate the crimson clover in mid April, ahead of planting corn. This is well before bloom, thus limiting the amount of N actually produced.

This spring, being so late, Indiana grower Mike Starkey decided to leave the cover crop on his field a month longer than normal. The cover crop mix was crimson clover, annual ryegrass, Austrian winter pea and dicon radish. As you can see in the photos below (5/19/14), the clover is in full bloom. Purdue University students were there taking samples on the 80 acre parcel to determine the N content.

2014 Starkey cover crop mix - Purdue sampling crew2014 Starkey Cover Crop Mix - CC WP and ARG

While many in the Midwest experienced a tough cover crop year because of the harsh winter, this parcel fared well due to the tree line which acted as a windbreak.  A minus 20 to minus 30 degree windchill with no snow cover seems to be the threshold at which winterkill occurs.  Many areas had significant snow but the wind blew the snow off of some areas.

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Annual Ryegrass – Manage it Properly

Managing annual ryegrass is not rocket science…but it is all about science. Therefore, being precise about the process of killing the cover crop is important.

In prior posts, you’ve learned about the timing, the weather, the proper mix of glyphosate, adding AMS and balancing the water hardness with citric acid if needed. Some add a surfactant and even 2,4-D for better control and to get rid of other broadleaf weeds at the same time.

By now, you may have seen already whether one full-rate application of glyphosate was enough. Inspecting the field a week after the first application is smart. Look closely. Any sign of green warrants another application.

After your corn or soybean crop emerges, you can control any annual ryegrass escapes with a labeled rate of Accent Q, Steadfast Q, or Option, but best control is obtained with these products when temperatures are above 70 degrees.

For more information, check out the website or download a comprehensive four-page brochure.

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