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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Farmers increasing cover-crop use

The annual report from the CTIC (Conservation Technology Info Center) published recently is more good news for the soil, the planet and the farmers who employ the cover crop technique. (Click here for the full report, including graphs). The news was reported by

Here’s a paragraph outlining the gains being seen in the Midwest.

“Cover crops are growing in popularity by leaps and bounds among farmers. A recent survey of more than 1,200 growers throughout the United States showed cover crops boosted corn yields in 2014 by an average of 3.66 bushels per acre, or 2.1 percent, and soybean yields by 2.19 bushels or 4.2 percent. Last year was the third-consecutive year that yield boosts from cover crops were recorded by the Conservation Technology Information Center, a public-private partnership in West Lafayette, Indiana.”

“The 2015 survey also recorded a fifth year of steady increase in the average number of acres planted to cover crops by survey respondents, at almost 374,000 acres this year. The average number of cover-crop acres per farm in the annual surveys has nearly tripled over the past five years. The average cover-crop acreage per respondent planting a cover crop was 300 acres in 2015.”

From 1200 respondents, the survey determined that cereal rye and annual ryegrass are still the top cover crop seeds used. Here’s the breakout of use reported by farmers:

“Among cover-crop species, cereal grains and grasses are most popular, planted by 84 percent of cover-crop users. Cereal rye accounted for 44 percent of the total cover-crop acres in 2015. Annual ryegrass was a distant second with about half cereal rye’s acreage. Oats was third, covering 17 percent of respondents’ land in 2015. Triticale and winter barley rounded out the top-five cereal grains and grasses.”

It also appears that brassicas, including radish, turnips, rapeseed and canola, continue to gain in use, especially as the practice of seeding four or more cover crop species together in a mix continues to increase.

Interestingly, the top reason farmers cited use of cover crops was because it aids the improvement of soil health. The CTIC had assumed previously that the main reason was because it improved the chances of better production and, thus, profit.

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Midwest Cover Crop Council Helps Soybean Producers with Publication

The Midwest Cover Crop Council is a beneficial site for learning a great deal about specifics on successful cover crops. Click here for their website: Here’s their summary of benefits of cover crops:

  • Enhance biodiversity
  • Increase soil infiltration, leading to less flooding, leaching, and runoff
  • Create wildlife habitat
  • Attract honey bees and beneficial insects


  • Reduce erosion
  • Improve soil quality, through increases in
    • Porosity (reduced compaction)
    • Soil organic matter
    • Water holding capacity
    • Beneficial microbes
    • Micro- and macro-invertebrates
  • Retain nutrients that would otherwise be lost
  • Add nitrogen through fixation (leguminous cover crops)
  • Combat weeds
  • Break disease cycles

Their new publication is specifically about helping soybean producers introduce cover crops into their rotation. Click here for the whole publication.

An intro paragraph in the publication says that “Interest in cover crops has increased greatly, as increasing numbers of meetings, workshops, and field days about the topic can attest. In 2012, the National Agricultural Statistics Service included cover crops in its census and reported that U.S. farmers planted 10.3 million acres of cover crops in 2012 — in the same year, farmers in the North Central Region (NCR) planted 4.5 million acres of cover crops. Cover crops represent 3.6 percent of total NCR cropland, so they have a long way to go before becoming common and accepted before or after soybeans (or in general).”

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Field Day for Cover Crops in Illinois

MO-Matt-Volkman-NRCS-ARG-field-shot.jpgA cover crop field day has been scheduled at two locations in Illinois’ Coe Township, convened by the Rock Island Soil & Water Conservation District.(See below for specifics)

According to an article in the Dispatch-Argus paper in Moline, IL, cover crops continue to prove their value, both in building soil health and improving profits for growers. Here’s a segment of the article (if you want to read the whole thing, click here)

Cover crops lengthen the growing season of live plant material with many winter annual species like winter wheat, cereal rye and annual ryegrass maintaining live root systems under the soil surface during the winter months providing food for soil microbes to stay active.  Currently, idle crop fields become biological deserts in which soil microbes reduce in population with limited food resources.  Some covers like cereal rye and annual ryegrass also provide biological weed control in crop fields during the early portion of the growing season.  This helps reduce the amount of pesticides that need to be used.”

“Those benefits include reduced soil erosion, enhancement of soil biology through increased microbial activity and the development of higher organic levels, improved water quality from reduced run-off along with the capture of un-used phosphorus and nitrogen making those nutrients available for the next cropping season.”

Location of the field days:

Wed. Nov 5th - DePauw farm, located at 122nd Ave N, in Port Byron, IL.

Thurs. Nov. 6th. - the Anderson Farm located ½ mile east of Sherrard High School or west of the junction of 176th Ave W and 63rd St. W.

For more information and reservations call the Rock Island SWCD office at (309) 764-1486 ext. 3.

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Video – Innovations with Cover Crop Seeding – Jamie Scott

Indiana cover crop pioneer and innovator Jamie Scott presented an informative overview of cover crop seeding options in 2014. Click here to access the video.

Jamie Scott presentation - screen shot

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Spring Seeding of Annual Ryegrass in Knee-high Corn – an Update

The spring seeding of cover crops in Quebec began five or six years ago and Dan Towery had grave concerns. How does it make sense to consider adding annual ryegrass between rows of knee-high corn in June?

But after repeated trips to Quebec to witness the successes – including a bump in corn production – Dan is more than cautiously optimistic. He’s now pushing forward with vigor various trials with spring “interseeding” of cover crops in the northern Corn Belt.

Last year was the first limited trial and it was successful, both in terms of the cover crop surviving but also in terms of corn production. Perhaps the biggest benefit of a spring cover crop seeding: by doing the planting in the spring, it eases farmers’ fall schedule, pressed as they are with corn harvest and weather suitable for establishing a cover crop planted so late in the year. Pictured below 2015 Harrow retrofitted as a CC seederis an older harrow that was retrofitted (removed some teeth and adding a Gandy linear seeder on top) that was funded by the Oregon Ryegrass Commission, a pioneer in cover crop research trials and education in the past 20 years.

Last year, in different control plots, the bump in corn production over adjacent fields was 6 bu/ac using annual ryegrass, and 15 bu/ac using hairy vetch. “We’re not sure why the hairy vetch was so much more beneficial to the corn production,” he said, “but my hunch is that hairy vetch being a nitrogen fixer, there’s something going on with the mycorrhizal (fungal) hyphae in conjunction with the corn roots.” We’ll be looking at learning more that connection this year.”

2015 Interseeding MN

This year, Towery is overseeing the expansion of the test plots “in the northern one-third of the Corn Belt.” Towery said he’s curious how far south the practice will be tolerated. “The more heat, the more dryness, the less likely we’ll see a successful spring cover crop program.”


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Oklahoma State Extension Says Annual Ryegrass Excels

An article today in the McAlister News-Capital advises stock producers to consider annual ryegrass as a forage crop to promote healthy steers and balance sheets.

The author, an OSU Extension agent, said that annual ryegrass can be grazed in both the fall and spring, although the fall yield will be less:  900lbs of forage in the fall versus between 2 and 3 tons of forage from March through May – with added nutrients to the crop – and thus, “helping to reduce the winter feeding period.”

He said the nutrition value of annual ryegrass is high: “when in vegetative state, it will on average have a protein content of 12-16%.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Click here for a more comprehensive guide to growing annual ryegrass forage.


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