Sales of annual ryegrass seed this year have been “pretty good” said Illinois-based agronomist Ron Althoff. Even with extremely dry summer months, farmers were banking on enough rain to germinate annual ryegrass seed, while also hoping against a subsequent dry spell that could wither the new cover crop.
It’s a risk many are willing to take, after having seen the value of cover crops in the 2012 season, when corn and soybean production yields were 10 to 12 percent higher on acres where cover crops were used, according to a Midwest farm survey by the Sustainable Ag Research and Education program (SARE). Just that news has precipitated a continued rush to find cover crop seed. The research also indicated that the number of acres planted continues to climb steadily, increasing nearly one-third this year over last year.
Althoff, a seed dealer for Oregon-based Saddlebutte Ag, said that planting annual ryegrass has become more popular by airplane, or with high-clearance equipment, into a standing corn or soybean crop. Drilling cover crop seed after harvest gets trickier with a late harvest because annual ryegrass needs about 40 days of above freezing weather to establish well.
Althoff said that while he prefers annual ryegrass, farmers can plant other cover crops later because they need less time to establish.
“Corn grown on annual ryegrass cover crop got in some cases 50 bu. better yield than average,” he said. With that kind of return, it’s clear why people are finding the investment for cover crops worthwhile.