New Annual Ryegrass Management Guide for 2016

ARG in Quebec - November photoClick here for the new “Quick Guide” for managing Annual Ryegrass as a cover crop.

In addition to new tips for seeding, the guide also outlines an emerging problem for managing cover crops in the Midwest. Many farmers use residual herbicides in the field to control weeds like marestail and waterhemp.

The lifespan of some of these herbicides extends into the next growing season for cover crops and have been shown to have a “carryover” effect on the success of the cover crop.

In the next post, we’ll outline more details on the types of herbicides to watch out for and how to continue using cover crops, too.

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Herbicide Carryover in Cover Crops – New Free Guides

In the past couple of years, there has been increasing concern about the impact of residual herbicides in the field hampering or killing cover crops, including annual ryegrass.

Mike Plumer, a pioneer in the cover crop renaissance in the Midwest, has published a handy guide to specific residual herbicides and his observation about their affect on different cover crops.

Click here for a selection of publications about the herbicide carryover issue..

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Cover Crops and Carbon Sequestration

The recent Climate conference in Paris included talk about cover crops and carbon sequestration. With a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, scientists are looking at ways to improve the soil’s capacity to regain some of what it has lost to cultivation and oxidation. Here’s a section of an article from an agronomist at Yale University, speaking about work that Ohio State’s Rattan Lal has done.

According to Rattan Lal, director of Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, the world’s cultivated soils have lost between 50 and 70 percent of their original carbon stock, much of which has oxidized upon exposure to air to become CO2. Now, armed with rapidly expanding knowledge about carbon sequestration in soils, researchers are studying how land restoration programs in places like the former North American prairie, the North China Plain, and even the parched interior of Australia might help put carbon back into the soil. 

Dan Towery said that cover crops have lots of promise, bringing carbon back into and storing it in the soil. But, he added that no-till and cover cropping are still new, and gains by one farmer who steadfastly improves the carbon base can quickly be lost again. “All it takes is one tillage trip to lose about 90 percent of what you’ve gained in a decade of cover crops and no-till,” he said. The carbon, even after a decade, isn’t much deeper than two inches. And, there’s no guarantee that, with the sale or rental of that farm, successive farmers will continue to abide with that practice.

So, the idea of paying people to sequester carbon will have to wait some time, he said, until the management practices have settled firmly on the side of conservation tillage.


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Dan Towery to Present on Cover Crop Limitations

The 24th Annual National No-Till Conference will take place Jan 6 – 9, 2016 at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Indianapolis. Dan Towery and a close working colleague, Hans Kok, will present on Jan 7th. here’s a description of that classroom event at the show.

Possibilities and Limitations of Cover Crops: Fixing Tough Conditions.” With the rising popularity of cover crops, no-tillers are finding they may be able to fix many problems in the soil, such as resolving compaction, reducing diseases like pythium by improving the soil’s aggregate stability and controlling certain glyphosate-resistant weeds.

But there are limits to what they can fix and how long it may take, as well as growing conditions, to see results. Hans Kok, coordinator of the Indiana Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative, and Dan Towery, no-till consultant with Ag Conservation Solutions in Lafayette, Ind., will discuss both the possibilities and limitations of cover crops. – See more at:

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Annual Ryegrass Seed Dealer List for 2016

Growth in sales have continue to match growth of acreage of annual ryegrass as a cover crop.

Will we reach 20 million acres in Midwest cover crops acres by 2020? At present rate of growth, perhaps not. But farmers understand how annual ryegrass and other cover crops increase soil health, while also fattening their profitability.

Click here for a list of annual ryegrass seed for your cover crop.  

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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.


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NRCS Funds Expanded Use of Cover Crops

From No-Till Magazine’s managing editor this week, an article about expanded use of federal taxpayer funds for establishing agricultural conservation measures. Click here for the whole article. Below, a portion of that article.

It’s becoming ever more clear that the NRCS believes no-tilling, cover crops and more precise grazing methods will be crucial to shoring up the declining Ogallala aquifer.

And it’s also clear farmers in the southern Plains will continue to feel pressure to reduce or eliminate their dependence on irrigation, or adopt more efficient technology.

The NRCS announced this month that it will invest $8 million in the ongoing Ogallala Aquifer Initiative (OEI) in 2016 to help farmers and ranchers conserve water in the Ogallala’s footprint. This is up from $6.5 million that was spent for 2015.

The NRCS is also adding two new management areas for the OEI:

  • Middle Republican Natural Resource District: The project in southwestern Nebraska addresses groundwater quantity and quality concerns, and will enable participants to voluntarily implement practices to conserve irrigation water and improve groundwater quality.
  • Oklahoma Ogallala Aquifer Initiative: Among other things, this project will help landowners implement conservation practices — including crop residue and tillage management — that decrease water use. One goal is helping farmers convert from irrigated to dryland farming.

The NRCS already has focus areas in Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas and Colorado, which you can read more about by clicking here.

The NRCS says it’s continuing to address problems with the aquifer by working with farmers to build soil health through seeding cover crops and implementing no-till practices, which will improve water-holding capacity and buffer roots from higher temperatures.

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EPA Steps on Intro of Dow’s Enlist Duo

Combining glyphosate with other herbicides to increase the killing effect of the application has been used for many years. See our brochure on annual ryegrass management for specifics on this.

Earlier in the year, EPA allowed 15 states the green light to using Enlist Duo, a combination of glyphosate with a form of 2,4-D. But last week, the EPA filed suit to halt the distribution and sale of Enlist Duo, saying new information provided about the product by Dow ”that suggests (the) two active ingredients could result in greater toxicity to non-target plants.”

EPA plans further review while Dow seeks to find a way to get clearance for the product for the 2016 season, including suggesting it might be able to modify the formulation somewhat or stipulate use conditions for the product.

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Good News and More News about Cover Crops

Climate Change photoIn next week’s UN Climate Change Conference, cover crops won’t be center stage but certainly will be part of the mix of popular go-to strategies for long-term global health.

Cover crops, including the ever-popular annual ryegrass, continue to gain credibility as a low cost boost for soil, water and air quality. Reducing runoff from agricultural fields, cover crops can help to improve Earth’s water quality. In the US, cover crops are already showing their value in reducing the problems in Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition, cover crops including annual ryegrass and crimson clover are seen as crucial allies in reducing the need for extra nitrogen in mono-crop systems like corn and soybeans. By sequestering (annual ryegrass) or fixing (clover) nitrogen in the soil, cover crops save money while not sacrificing production.

Whatever comes out of the Conference in Paris will be good news for those adopting new conservation strategies including cover crops. Whether good practices like cover crops are further incentivized or regulated, their use will be good for agriculture and good for the health of the planet.

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Mississippi State U expands forage species testing; New companions to old favorites like Annual Ryegrass

Until 2007, the forage testing program at Mississippi State University was limited to annual ryegrass. Nothing wrong with that particularly but producers continued to urge research agronomists to look at other species and varieties.

Then Rocky Lemus was hired and since then, the program has blossomed.”MSU has the only complete forage testing plots in the United States,” Lemus said. “We have 20 different species, 110 varieties and four different locations.”

Read the whole article by clicking here.

Rocky Lemus, associate professor of forage systems with the Mississippi State University Extension Service and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, leads the MSU official forage variety trials with plots containing 20 different species and 110 varieties at four locations across the state. (Photo by MSU Extension/Kat Lawrence)

Above - Rocky Lemus, associate professor of forage systems with the Mississippi State University Extension Service and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, leads the MSU official forage variety trials with plots containing 20 different species and 110 varieties at four locations across the state. (Photo by MSU Extension/Kat Lawrence)

Four different locations are used for test plots; both warm and cool season species are tested. And from the basic annual ryegrass, the mix of new options for livestock forage has expanded geometrically.

“Warm-season perennial grasses include bermudagrass and bahiagrass. Sorghum-sudangrass hybrids and pearl millets are summer annual grasses. Annual ryegrass and small grains (oats, wheat and cereal rye) are common winter annual grasses. Perennial cool-season tall fescue is grown extensively in the Prairie sections and in north Mississippi. Perennial legumes include sericea lespedeza.”

And legumes are also being tested, Lemus said. Annual lespedeza and alyce clover are warm-season annual legumes while alfalfa, white clovers and red clovers are perennial cool-season legumes. A large number of cool-season annual legumes include crimson, ball, berseem and arrowleaf clovers. Vetch and wild winter peas also are cool-season annual legumes.

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