Annual Ryegrass Adds Value Topside and Below

In an online article this week, Ag.com outlines the benefits of various cover crops. High on the list is annual ryegrass. Click here for the whole article by Kacey Birchmier.

Here’s the piece about annual ryegrass.
Scientific name: Lolium multiflorum
Those who have goals centered on preventing erosion, improving soil structure, and scavenging nutrients should consider annual ryegrass, recommends Barry Fisher, an Indiana soil health specialist at USDA-NRCS. This thick, quick-growing grass produces significant deep root biomass that builds soil organic matter, accesses nutrients, suppresses weeds, and curbs soil erosion. The root system of annual ryegrass is dense at shallow depths, but also sends roots deep into the subsoil. Ryegrass can also scavenge leftover N, and provide a timed release of stored N for the following crop.

“You can minimize the N tie-up by waiting a few weeks for the cover crop to decompose before planting the following crop,” says Tracy Blackmer, research director at Cover Crop Solutions.

Annual ryegrass can be terminated by mechanical or chemical means as it overwinters. However, spring termination should be executed before the seed sets for a complete kill and to avoid potential chemical resistance. Annual ryegrass is easiest to terminate before the first node appears, says Blackmer.

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Successful Tips for Cover Crops

In a recent article on Ag.com by Edith Munro, Dan Towery offered these tips for cover crop success.

varner arg michigan 4-08 (2)

 

Cover crop decisions can be initially overwhelming. “Details – especially timing – are critical,” says Dan Towery, president of Ag Conservation Solutions and Soil and Water Conservation Society.

Here are five questions and tips Towery gives to guide you if you are considering a cover crop.

1. What do you want to accomplish with a cover crop?
Cover crops offer a range of possible benefits that include:
• Reducing erosion.
• Reducing soil compaction.
• Scavenging nitrogen.
• Fixing nitrogen.
• Increasing organic matter.
• Improving weed control.
• Increasing water infiltration.
• Improving soil biological activity.
• Matching goals with cover crop selection is essential.

Selecting a maximum of three is the first step to narrowing the list of cover
crops to consider.

2. How will you plant it and when? 
Planting method and timing are key interrelated decisions. Traditionally, the best seed-to-soil contact comes from drilling, but that must occur after harvest. In the Upper Midwest, seeding that late limits the cover crop options.

3. What will follow the cover crop in your rotation?
Since some cover crops tie up nitrogen, it is especially important to consider the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of the covers being considered if the following crop will be corn.

4. Which cover crop will you plant? 
Multiple options are available depending on location. Consider using the Midwest Cover Crop Council’s Cover Crop Decision Tool.

The tool provides customized guidance for Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Ontario, and Wisconsin. It allows you to plug location, cash crop, planting and harvest dates, and cover crop objectives to narrow the list of cover crop choices that match your specific conditions.

Two books offer more detailed information:

  • Managing Cover Crops Profitably (Third Edition), published by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (sare.org)
  • Cover Crops Field Guide, from the Midwest Cover Crops Council.

5. How will you terminate your cover crop? 
Towery recommends planning early and killing the tougher cover crops early. Some cover crops will winterkill on their own, and some may be easy to kill. Others may require following fairly specific instructions to terminate.

Once you have completed your initial research and have decided on a potential list of cover crops, Towery recommends planting a small trial plot to become familiar with various cover crop traits.

“It can be as small as 10×10 feet. Look for opportunities where you can watch how your cover crops do through a fall-winter-spring cycle,” he suggests. “A sweet corn patch is good, or if you have a small wheat or corn silage field.”

Success with cover crops requires a systems approach, Towery says. “The reason some growers can make cover crops work but their neighbors can’t isn’t complex. It’s all about attention to details and timing.

“Doing the homework minimizes unpleasant surprises. You must complete all the steps for success,” he says.

 

 

 

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Cover Crops Maximize Your ROI on Each Acre

Those with a few years experience with cover crops and no-till agriculture have come to expect there may be an occasional year when the results aren’t as terrific. It’s the long term picture that counts, according to Nick Bowers, a partner in Oregon-based KB Seed Solutions, producer of KB Royal annual ryegrass.

“There are newer guys who are tempted to give up after a disappointing year, where the cover crop stand gets winter-killed,” he said.  “But those who’ve seen years of improved soil conditions and harvest increases are convinced of the value of cover cropping each year.”

Nick said he worked last year with a Minnesota farmer who did a side-by-side comparison: one field with no-till only and the other with no-till and annual ryegrass as a cover crop. “The soil temperature where annual ryegrass grew was an average 7 degrees warmer than soil with none,” he said.

He said the cover crop acreage also provided a better environment for planting into. “The soil was fluffier this spring and that allowed for less down-pressure on the planter. So, it was easier for the tractor to plant corn, and that saves on fuel.”

Some producers will always fight change, Nick added. “But those who pay attention to profit and to changes in management practices will end up better off.”

“You can always get more bushels of corn by adding nitrogen, but at some point there is no positive return on your investment.  Using a cover crop such as annual ryegrass, you can become more efficient with your inputs. The goal should not be to produce as many bushels as possible, but to have the maximum return of investment per acre.”

 

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Annual Ryegrass Cover Crop – Inexpensive and Effective at Eliminating Nutrient Runoff

Des Moines, Iowa, City Council is poised to file a federal lawsuit against several watershed councils in order that the level of nitrates be reduced in city drinking water. (Click here or above to see the news article) Even though Iowa is one of only two states in the Mississippi River Basin to have a nutrient reduction plan in effect, the effort has not diminished the nitrate levels in the Raccoon River flowing through downtown Des Moines. The river is a source of drinking water for the city.

There are a couple of ways to reduce runoff. One is mechanical, the other is vegetative. Installing monitoring stations at the edge of fields does a good job telling regulators how much nutrient is leaving. The cost to install even low-cost equipment gets expensive if you’re required to install hundreds on a farm of a couple thousand acres. And, monitoring the field, while useful, doesn’t reduce runoff.

The Environmental Protection Agency is among the regulatory agencies stepping up pressure on farmers to cut runoff of nitrates, coming from animal waste and fertilizers. The EPA says that other measures are effective of reducing or eliminating that runoff…cover crops are among the least expensive. Here are their suggestions:

  • Cover crops: Planting certain grasses, grains or clovers can help keep nutrients out of the water by recycling excess nitrogen and reducing soil erosion.
  • Buffers: Planting trees, shrubs and grass around fields, especially those that border water bodies, can help by absorbing or filtering out nutrients before they reach a water body.
  • Conservation tillage: Reducing how often fields are tilled reduces erosion and soil compaction, builds soil organic matter, and reduces runoff.

Don Wirth, a grass seed grower from Oregon, has been working with corn and soybean farmers in the Midwest for more than a decade. He said that it’s sad that the farming industry could not accomplish the task of reducing runoff without government intervention. He is optimistic, however, that the popularity of cover crops will constitute an effective and less expensive method of reducing nutrient runoff.

 

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Annual Ryegrass Forage Story from Southern Canada

From the Canadian Cattleman magazine, a story from Alberta about a cattleman with an eye for steer health and profits. Click here for the whole article.

Andy Schuepbach, a registered Hereford breeder in southern Alberta, uses two varieties of ryegrass to provide fall and winter feed for his cattle. The high protein content of these grasses eliminates the need for any other protein source.

“We grow barley for silage, and after it’s seeded we seed 10 pounds of a mixture of Italian ryegrass and annual ryegrass. The Italian ryegrass has phenomenal feed value. We bale a little for our calves but use most of it for winter grazing,” he says.

The Italian ryegrass has fine leaves and is very palatable so young calves do well on it. Calves won’t eat coarse feed, and this grass is very soft. “We calve in February and March, and always struggle with ulcers in the calves. We have a lot of windbreaks and open-face sheds with bars across, halfway back, so the calves can get into the back part. This is where we set up a round bale with panels around it. The calves can eat the bale through the panel bars,” he explains.

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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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