Since the first annual report issued by CTIC and SARE about usage of cover crops, in 2012, the average acreage planted in cover crops by survey respondents has more than doubled…from just over 200 acres to more than 450 this year. Click here to view the entire report.
The report said the continued rise in use of cover crops was surprising, given the low commodity prices. It suggested that motives beyond profit are in play. In fact, the report says that 86% of respondents said that soil health was the primary reason they invest in cover crops.
About 25% of the more than 2000 respondents said that cover crops are planted on most of their acreage (81 – 100%) with another 11% saying than between 60 and 80% is planted in cover crops.
More than half said that they saw soil benefits from the first year of cover crop use.
Almost 60% said they have “herbicide-resistant weeds” on their farm, and that planting cover crops helps to reduce those weeds significantly.
When asked which cover crops were most effective in controlling herbicide-resistant weeds, most said “mixes” of cover crops, which all contain annual ryegrass. The second most popular response was annual ryegrass itself.
Of more than 2000 farmers who responded to a Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC), 88% say they use cover crops. Of that group, about 65% say they use cover crop mixes that include annual ryegrass. Click here to see the report online.
Reading the whole report is worth the effort, because it has tons of good information about the growing use of cover crops. Here are a few highlights.
- Modest yield gains were again seen: 1.3% in corn, 3.8% in soybeans. For the first time, data was collected about the yield gain in wheat, when cover crops were used. The bump was 2.8%.
- The average acreage planted in cover crops increased, too, topping 400 acres. Respondents said they planned to increase that size to more than 450 acres next year, an increase of about 17%.
- Most farmers, in fact 75% of those answering the survey, said they planted their cover crop seed personally. The same number also said that they planted in the fall, after harvest.
- A number to watch: 27% said they “interseeded” in 2016, planting cover crop into standing corn in the late spring, in conjunction with their side-dress or later.
- Another relatively new practice: planting crops into spring annual ryegrass and other cover crops, soon to be terminated. Almost 40% said they tried the practice last year and report that it helps control weeds as well as manage soil moisture
- Cover crop mixes were rated the highest as a way to control weeds
The main reasons farmers claimed for using cover crops: soil health and improving yield consistency. Most said cover crops helped even from the first year of use.
Non-users (12% of survey respondents) said they were interested in cover crops but wary about the cost and time to plant them, worried about the crops becoming a weed problem, and thinking it might not pencil out economically. They did say, however, that they’re interested in tracking the use of cover crops and learning more about them, and would probably begin the practice if the cost share programs continue.
Future blogs on this site will go into more detail about some of these points mentioned above.
Conservation tillage, in the best sense, includes cover crops. In addition to enriching the soil, cover crops literally inhale carbon dioxide from the air and use it for plant growth. What isn’t used for growth is eventually released back into the soil.
According to the Conservation Technology Information Center (and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization). upwards of ONE THIRD of the carbon emitted in our world (from power plants and internal combustion engines) could be offset if farmers worldwide would all make use of conservation tillage, including cover crops.
Annual ryegrass, as a cover crop, is adept at absorbing carbon and storing it in its massive network of roots. When killed in the spring, the annual ryegrass residue (including the roots) releases its sequestered nitrogen to help fertilize the new corn and beans in the field. At the same time, the carbon in the cover crop is released into the soil, improving the ratio of organic matter and adding to the food source for soil microbiology.
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.
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.
Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones) was loathed by many during her 90 plus years as a tireless advocate for middle class workers. In 1902, already 65 years old, she was named “the most dangerous woman in America” because of her championing of coal mine workers who wanted more safety, better wages and union representation.
So, given her Socialist and anti-corporate leanings, it was a surprise to see a big feature article this year praising the benefits of cover crops in a magazine named after her: Mother Jones.
The article looks at the benefits of annual ryegrass (they called it rye) in battling the polluting effects of farm runoff into Chesapeake Bay. The article quantifies the subsidy to farmers to plant cover crops (up to $90 per acre) but also quantifies the savings.
Check out the whole article here. Mother Jones article on Cover Crops
What is gratifying, other than the value that cover crops bring to agriculture, is the fact that farmers and environmentalists can agree on a lot more than they used to. In fact, environmental groups have become important allies when it comes to conservation tillage practices espoused by the ag industry.
The annual ryegrass website has served a purpose for many years, but the reliance on embedded content has made the site too wordy and ponderous.
So, in the next month, we will be slimming the site down considerably. Instead of each Tab page being a lengthy educational piece, we will instead link to informed resources, including flyers, articles and other websites.
The annual ryegrass blog has until now been a separate website. In the next move, we will combine the blog with the website, as it provides the user with more convenience.
We would enjoy hearing from you about these changes. Let us know what kind of information you would like to get, if in fact it hasn’t been there before.
As cover cropping continues to grow, the Oregon Ryegrass Growers want to continue to provide you with good information that is current and accurate.
There are times when evidence from on-farm research, from growers, differs from evidence from university plots. Earlier this year, the long brewing animosity over annual ryegrass emerged again, when Purdue University weed scientist Bill Johnson again claimed that the cover crop is a tough-to-control weed.
Evidence from the field, going back 20 years, suggests otherwise. In a No-Till Farmer article earlier this year, magazine founder and editor Frank Lessiter said that growers tend to follow what works, No-Till Farmer’s benchmark study last year found that 28% of growers seeded annual ryegrass as a cover crop in 2016.
Mike Starkey, former president of the Illinois Soil and Water Conservation District Association, said Purdue has unfairly painted annual ryegrass as a nuisance. In his experience, no-tilling 2,550 acres and using annual ryegrass as a cover crop on all but a sliver of his cover cropped acres, he has found no problem controlling annual ryegrass. In fact, he said that annual ryegrass helps to control other weeds in his fields. “We don’t have many weed concerns, but annual ryegrass suppresses the weeds we do have,” says Starkey. “It also scavenges nitrogen, improves our soil structure and aids in the movement of air and water in the soil.”
Dan Towery has promoted annual ryegrass and a host of other cover crops in his decades of work as an agronomist and crop consultant.He said he thinks that Purdue has gone overboard with their objections to annual ryegrass. He maintains some Purdue folks rely too much on what they’ve learned from their own research plots, are not big believers in no-till and have refused opportunities to see how growers are making annual ryegrass work.”
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.Scott 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.
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.
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 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. 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.