Mike Plumers Legacy Connected to Annual Ryegrass

mike-plumerWhen Oregon growers of annual ryegrass began wondering where this inexpensive plant might be of added value in agriculture, they looked at the Midwest, where many millions of acres are calling out for remedies to heal depleted soil.

Mike Plumer, in the early 1990s, was an ag resource educator working for the University of Illinois. It was the connection the Oregon growers would mark as the starting point for launching a new effort in soil conservation. It was a turning point in the corn and soybean industry, as well as in the Oregon grass seed industry.

It became obvious quickly that annual ryegrass was a radically root active plant and that, during mild winters, would sink roots deep into the Midwest soil. In optimum conditions, the new cover crop would stabilize soil from erosion. We learned, through Mike’s efforts to secure test farms on which to try out annual ryegrass, that it was good for increasing organic matter, mining nutrients, suppressing weeds, suppressing cyst nematodes in beans, reducing the amount of nitrogen added to corn, increasing soil friability with increased infiltration of precipitation, and so on and so on…it’s a very long list.

But what Mike was instrumental in helping Oregon growers figure out was this:

  • The “old” varieties of annual ryegrass (Gulf especially) was ill suited to withstand Midwest winters. At his urging, Oregon growers invested heavily in time and research cost to develop new varieties that are winter hardy.
  • The other early issue was ryegrass management. If let go, the plant could become a weed, and one that developed resistance to herbicides necessary to kill it in the spring. Mike helped farmers and crop advisors understand the science that drove a change in farm management. Because of his keen observations, his stern warnings and his ever-present assistance, the potential problem has been avoided…farmers took the warnings seriously and adopted necessary management techniques to control the cover crop while extracting the maximum benefits.
  • In more recent  years, Mike had been vocal about the trend towards more cover crop “mixes,” using annual ryegrass with other varieties. It proved ill advised to mix certain ones together, simply because each breaks dormancy at different times in the spring. Thus, achieving an effective kill of all cover crop vegetation was problematic, because the plants need to be out of dormancy and in active growth to absorb the herbicide.

Aside from his tireless inquiry into best practices in the field, Mike was also a tireless advisor for those seeking to improve crop production while aiding the soil’s improved health.

And among many of Mike’s assets was patience, perhaps learned in his many years as an educator…or fisherman. He was patient with those too stubborn to change, just as he was patient with those wanting to race ahead without science as their guide.

He will be missed for all that he represented in one fine package. The silver lining, if there has to be one, is that he leaves in his wake a lot of room for those who learned at his feet to grow into his shoes.

 

Posted in Dan's Digs, General Information | Leave a comment

“Give it to Mikey. Mikey Will Know What to Do!”

No-Till Farmer magazine founder Frank Lessiter said this about Mike Plumer, after hearing about his death late in December, while he was awaiting word on a possible lung transplant.

“Mike was a great friend of No-Till Farmer and a staunch advocate for helping farmers succeed with cover crops.He was a tireless teacher. He would stand in the hallways at our meeting for hours on end taking questions from farmers and helping them find answers to their cover crop challenges.”

No-Till Farmer has also published online a link to the many articles Mike authored or co-authored, as part of his effort to educate farmers about cover crops and the intricacies of managing them.

Posted in Dan's Digs, General Information | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Mike Plumer, Cover Crop Hero, is Gone, but Not Forgotten

“When we lost Mike, we lost a champion, a champion in innovative agriculture in the U.S., North America and other points of the world, primarily Africa.”

On Christmas Day, Mike Plumer died. The quote above is from a tribute written about him by Bryan Ostlund, administrator of the Oregon Seed Growers Commission.

Here’s a link to the whole article, which will be published this spring in the Oregon Seed magazine. 

mike-plumer

 

Posted in Dan's Digs, General Information | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Towery and Kok to Present at NNTC on Cover Crop Variety

The upcoming 2018 National No-Till Conference in Louisville, KY (Jan. 9 – 12) will feature some familiar faces, but with them comes new information about how to make cover crops work for you. Here are two of the classroom presentations you may wish to schedule.

Towery and Kok NNTC 2018

 

Dan Towery and Hans Kok have been educating people on cover crop choices for close to 20 years. Towery helped to introduce  “interseeding” of cover crops into standing corn and beans about six years ago. This year, Iowa farmer Loran Steinlage will discuss his experience with interseeding, and the increases in crop production as a result.

Photo - interseeder from Iowa 2017

 

Here’s a link to the whole 2018 NNTC program

Posted in Dan's Digs, General Information | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Ray Weil on Cover Crop Benefits

Ray Weil was a guest speaker at the 2017 National No-Tillage Conference in St. Louis. His presentation focused on how cover crops benefit soil nutrient levels not only in topsoils, but in lower depths as well.

Ray is a Univ. of Maryland professor and co-author of Nature and Properties of Soil.

Ray Weil

Here’s a link to the podcast he delivered this year.

Ray’s research has covered how cover crops influence soil nutrient profiles at various depths and optimal planting dates for cover crops, their effects on moisture retention and how compaction influences deep root penetration.

Posted in General Information, Soil Quality | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Annual Ryegrass…Let it Grow, Let it Grow, Let it Grow

Songwriter Sammy Cahn, who wrote “Let it Snow, Let it Snow…” will probably rise up out of his grave to object the the following, which we’ve amended to be a promotion for cover crops!

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but in the soil it’s more delightful. With a cover crop now installed, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

The roots show no signs of stopping, and the earthworms continue their dropping. So with the ryegrass over wintering, watch it grow, watch it grow, watch it grow.

When we planted that seed last fall, oh we wished it would grow til spring. And if we manage it all just right, next year’s profits will ching-a-ching ching.

So as the climate gets warm and drying, the soil’s health you be eyeing. Add cover crops to the mix, and see productivity go, go go!

Merry Christmas from the Oregon Ryegrass Commission! And have a healthy and prosperous New Year.

Posted in General Information | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

More Coverage – CTIC/SARE Report on Cover Crops

Since the first annual report issued by CTIC and SARE about usage of cover crops, in 2012, the average acreage planted in cover crops by survey respondents has more than doubled…from just over 200 acres to more than 450 this year. Click here to view the entire report.

The report said the continued rise in use of cover crops was surprising, given the low commodity prices. It suggested that motives beyond profit are in play. In fact, the report says that 86% of respondents said that soil health was the primary reason they invest in cover crops.

About 25% of the more than 2000 respondents said that cover crops are planted on most of their acreage (81 – 100%) with another 11% saying than between 60 and 80% is planted in cover crops.

More than half said that they saw soil benefits from the first year of cover crop use.

Almost 60% said they have “herbicide-resistant weeds” on their farm, and that planting cover crops helps to reduce those weeds significantly.

When asked which cover crops were most effective in controlling herbicide-resistant weeds, most said “mixes” of cover crops, which all contain annual ryegrass. The second most popular response was annual ryegrass itself.

Posted in General Information, Soil Quality | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

CTIC Report Highlights Gains in Use of Cover Crops including Annual Ryegrass

Of more than 2000 farmers who responded to a Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC), 88% say they use cover crops. Of that group, about 65% say they use cover crop mixes that include annual ryegrass. Click here to see the report online.

Reading the whole report is worth the effort, because it has tons of good information about the growing use of cover crops. Here are a few highlights.

  • Modest yield gains were again seen: 1.3% in corn, 3.8% in soybeans. For the first time, data was collected about the yield gain in wheat, when cover crops were used. The bump was 2.8%.
  • The average acreage planted in cover crops increased, too, topping 400 acres. Respondents said they planned to increase that size to more than 450 acres next year, an increase of about 17%.
  • Most farmers, in fact 75% of those answering the survey, said they planted their cover crop seed personally. The same number also said that they planted in the fall, after harvest.
  • A number to watch: 27% said they “interseeded” in 2016, planting cover crop into standing corn in the late spring, in conjunction with their side-dress or later.
  • Another relatively new practice: planting crops into spring annual ryegrass and other cover crops, soon to be terminated. Almost 40% said they tried the practice last year and report that it helps control weeds as well as  manage soil moisture
  • Cover crop mixes were rated the highest as a way to control weeds

The main reasons farmers claimed for using cover crops: soil health and improving yield consistency. Most said cover crops helped even from the first year of use.

Non-users (12% of survey respondents) said they were interested in cover crops but wary about the cost and time to plant them, worried about the crops becoming a weed problem, and thinking it might not pencil out economically. They did say, however, that they’re interested in tracking the use of cover crops and learning more about them, and would probably begin the practice if the cost share programs continue.

Future blogs on this site will go into more detail about some of these points mentioned above.

 

Posted in General Information, Soil Quality | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Carbon Sequestration and Annual Ryegrass Cover Crop Acreage


Conservation tillage, in the best sense, includes cover crops. In addition to enriching the soil, cover crops literally inhale carbon dioxide from the air and use it for plant growth. What isn’t used for growth is eventually released back into the soil.

According to the Conservation Technology Information Center (and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization). upwards of ONE THIRD of the carbon emitted in our world (from power plants and internal combustion engines) could be offset if farmers worldwide would all make use of conservation tillage, including cover crops.

Carbon sequestration graphic

Annual ryegrass, as a cover crop, is adept at absorbing carbon and storing it in its massive network of roots. When killed in the spring, the annual ryegrass residue (including the roots) releases its sequestered nitrogen to help fertilize the new corn and beans in the field. At the same time, the carbon in the cover crop is released into the soil, improving the ratio of organic matter and adding to the food source for soil microbiology.

 

 

 

Posted in General Information, Soil Quality | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trick or Treat – Annual Ryegrass as a Cover Crop Delivers Both

Growing a cover crop like annual ryegrass has immense benefits, as you have no doubt learned. Thus the “treat” this Halloween is in the form of tangible revenue that growers receive from annual planting of cover crops:

  • Improved soil conditions – without tillage, soil health continues to grow. With cover crops, that growth is accellerated
  • Fewer inputs – less tillage, fewer passes over the soil, less compaction and fewer dollars spent on fertilizers, like nitrogen
  • Deeper soil profile, opened up by the deep, penetrating roots of annual ryegrass, allows better access to moisture in dry years and migration of deeper layers of nutrients
  • More profit – when the soil is happy, crops are happier, and production increases.

Halloween photo

The “trick” of annual ryegrass, as with any cover crop, is learning the details of new management techniques. The seeding of cover crops and the management of annual ryegrass in particular, in the spring, are very important. If managed poorly, annual ryegrass can become a pest, a weed. But as you learn the tricks, management becomes almost second nature.

For more information about growing and managing annual ryegrass, click here.

Posted in Dan's Digs | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment