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.

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Beck’s Seed Quantifies Revenue Gains with Annual Ryegrass as a Cover Crop

Beck's Seed Study - Screen Capture 2012 yearSince 2011, Beck’s Seed has been conducting research on different cover crops. Below, they describe the study parameters, in which cover crop yields were compared to plots with no cover crops:

In this study we are evaluating the advantages of cover crops and their ability to increase yield, soil tilth, scavenge and produce nitrogen, and shatter compaction. Corn was planted into 5 different cover crops that were planted each fall since 2011. In addition, we also evaluated 3 different nitrogen programs to evaluate nitrogen scavenging and sequestration. These nitrogen rates consisted of 180 lbs. (100%N program), 135 lbs. (75% N program), and 90 lbs. (50% N program).

In two years of results, annual ryegrass by itself topped the list for return on investment, measured in both yield and in revenue differences per acre. In both years, the second best producer was annual ryegrass in a blend with crimson clover and radish. See the results of the first year’s results in 2012, by clicking here.

Just recently, Beck’s released subsequent information – comparing results from the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Click here for an informative video.

Results: Looking at 2012 (a drought year) and 2013, the weather was distinctly different. Yet, in both years, annual ryegrass bested any other cover crop. In 2012, the yield in fields with annual ryegrass exceeded those with no cover crop by16 bu/ac, which translated into a revenue boost of $72/acre. In 2013, the results were the same, with an increase of almost $60/ac. over plots with no cover crop.

Finally, it’s interesting that while some cover crops increased yield with higher nitrogen inputs, annual ryegrass did better as the rates dropped! The return was best when the N application rate was at 50%.




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New York Times on No-Till Farming and Cover Crops

The New York Times recently published another article praising no-till and cover crops, citing climate severity, costs, environmental concerns and soil health as prime reasons we’re seeing a “paradigm shift” in agricultural practices. Here’s an excerpt, talking about how cover crops increase organic matter and how that helps to clean up rivers and the Gulf of Mexico:

“Each 1 percent increase in soil organic matter helps soil hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre,” said Claire O’Connor, a staff lawyer and agriculture specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In turn, more absorbent soil is less vulnerable to runoff and more resistant to droughts and floods. Cover crops also help suppress weeds. Environmental groups like the Defense Council have long been fans of soil-conservation techniques because they help protect waterways and increase the ability of soil to store carbon dioxide, rather than releasing it into the air, where it contributes to climate change.

One recent study led by the Environmental Defense Fund suggested that the widespread use of cover crops and other soil-health practices could reduce nitrogen pollution in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River basins by 30 percent, helping to shrink the giant “dead zone” of oxygen-depleted water in the Gulf of Mexico. The Defense Council, Ms. O’Connor said, has proposed that the government offer a “good driver” discount on federal crop insurance for growers who incorporate the practices.

Click here for the entire article.

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Soil Health Partnership Promotes Cover Crops

The Soil Health Partnership is into its second full year, developing a network of farms in the Midwest that continue to innovate management practices. The Partnership is a combination of effort funded by Monsanto and the Walton Foundation and organized through the National Corn Growers Association. Click here for their website.

The aim is to lessen drainage of field nutrients into waterways leading eventually to the Gulf of Mexico. The strategies include nutrient management and cover crops, including annual ryegrass. The research on these 100 plus farms will continue to expand, and participating growers are starting with small acreage – 20 to 80 acres. “Cover crops are critical,” said Dan Towery, who is a consultant to the project. He said that threats of legal action by some Iowa counties against farmers allowing excessive nitrates leach into waterways is creating added urgency.



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A Wrinkle on Early Harvest to Get Cover Crops in

There are still a few fields in which corn and beans were not harvested from last fall…too much rain. In some cases, growers chose to harvest earlier, however, when the corn had about 27% moisture, rather when it dried out to about 20%. Doing so, this past year, meant a higher yield, but increased the cost to dry the corn out. But, it also meant that those growers had a better chance of planting a cover crop.

Difficulty with planting cover crops last fall may encourage even more to try interseeding, that is, planting a cover crop like annual ryegrass in late spring, when corn is already a foot high or so. This new method has been tested in southern Canada and, in the past couple of years, in the northern Corn Belt. While there is much more testing to do, some have seen an increase in corn yield with the spring cover crop planting.

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Cover Crop Market News – Oregon and Midwest

The Winter 2015 edition of Oregon Seed magazine discusses the trend in cover crop seed sales in the Midwest. The quote is from Dan Towery, an independent cover crop consultant and longtime conservation tillage educator.

Oregon Seed mag - 2015 article on cover crop trends


For his part, Mike Plumer said that the 2014 dip doesn’t mean a decline in cover crop seed sales or the expansion of the practice of cover cropping. Plumer is another pioneer cover crop researcher and educator, formerly with the University of Indiana Extension Service.

Oregon Seed mag - 2015 article on cover crop trends-2


Oregon Seed mag - 2015 article on cover crop trends-3

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SARE Describes Benefits of ARG Cover Crop

If you want to build soil without investing much in a cover crop, consider annual ryegrass. This is from the website of the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education. For the whole page, click here.

The summary goes on:

A quick-growing, non-spreading bunch grass, annual ryegrass is a reliable, versatile performer almost anywhere, assuming adequate moisture and fertility. It does a fine job of holding soil, taking up excess N and outcompeting weeds.

Ryegrass is an excellent choice for building soil structure in orchards, vineyards and other cropland to enhance water infiltration, water-holding capacity or irrigation efficiency. It can reduce soil splash on solanaceous crops and small fruit crops, decreasing disease and increasing forage quality. You also can overseed ryegrass readily into corn, soybeans and many high-value crops.

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Below the Surface with Annual Ryegrass Cover Crops

Having planted your cover crop…yeah, those of you lucky enough to have gotten to it with a late harvest and wet conditions…you might be wondering what’s going on below that snow right now.

Well, for starters, what’s not happening above ground is erosion. Even if that snow cover melts off, the annual ryegrass fall growth will keep the soil in the field, as well as the soil nutrients.That means clean runoff next spring, no pollutants.

Even if the top growth of annual ryegrass is 4 to 6 inches going into dormancy before winter, the roots will continue to grow all winter. Presuming there’s no winter kill – when no snow, frigid temps and a wind chill create a hostile climate for cover crops…perhaps killing them – then the roots can grow to more than FIVE FEET DEEP.

Of course, deep rooting breaks through plow pan, hard pan and other compacted soils. This allow more water infiltration and gradually increases friability…that crumbly condition ideal for plant growth. The following growing season, corn and soybean roots follow the pathways established by the cover crop, allowing cash crops to grow deeper roots and withstand dryer summers.

After years of growing annual ryegrass and other cover crops, the decaying root matter begins to increase organic matter in the soil. Additionally, cover crops increase the carbon in the soil…a good thing. varner arg michigan 4-08 (2)Worms and a host of microorganisms find the untilled soil attractive and add further composting below the surface. Plus the growth of mycorrihizal fungus increases the cash crop’s ability to uptake water and nutrients.

Annual ryegrass and other cover crops also sequester nitrogen and other resident nutrients in the soil. When corn needs a boost in June and July, the decaying cover crop residue gives up its nitrogen for use by the corn or beans.

The key with bringing health back to overtaxed soil is to quit plowing and go no till, then plant cover crops year after year. The net benefit, besides cleaner water, healthier soil and fewer inputs of fertilizer is a boost in production. Consistent testing of cover crop lands versus conventionally tilled soil proves that those with cover crops are better producers.

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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.

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Annual Ryegrass: Part of New Adaptive Management Strategy

ARG in Quebec - November photoAdaptive management. Fancy title, basically meaning “be on top of developing situations in your fields and be  ready for a Plan B”.

Many farmers already fit that definition to a TEE. When it comes to growing successful cover crops, however, many have had to up their  game.

Cameron Mills, for example, was ready to seed his annual ryegrass cover crop seed in the fall, with a high-clearance sprayer adapted to plant cover crops. The late harvest, complicated by a wet fall, foiled his Plan A. His Plan B was a phone call to a nearby pilot to fly on the annual ryegrass seed.

Mills farms in Walton, IN, and has been a consistent cover cropper since 2005. His experience has put him on the front edge of cover crop field research. For example, he has studied the impact of annual ryegrass on extra nitrogen in the field. Accordingly, he’s reduced his input of N by 30 lb/ac and it hasn’t impacted yield. The following is from an article in Western Farmer Stockman

“In 2012, Mills layered in 170 lbs. of N per acre. Thanks in large part to his healthy no-till/cover-crop soil, he harvested a 165 bushel corn crop despite the severe drought.”

He said he believes he can trim that further, and Dan Towery agrees. Towery, an independent cover crop advisor and immediate past president of SWCS, said (in the same article) that, “after five years of continuous use of cover crops, farmers can typically cut N rates by an average of 50 lbs per acre for the crop year.” The savings will easily cover the cost of cover crop planting, he added.

The experience of others certainly helps those newer to cover cropping, and then having your own experience with cover crops will build confidence towards having your own Adaptive Management Strategy.

As Towery advises with adaptive management, “go slow and pay attention.”

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