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Sponsored: Growing the Benefits of Cover Crops

Planting a cover crop this winter is a conservation practice that can pay dividends to your farm and to the environment.

Cereal rye cover crops are proven to improve soil health, decrease nutrient runoff and soil loss, provide erosion control and reduce weed pressure.

Improving soil health

Considered a best management conservation practice, a cereal rye cover crop can be an important tool for reducing nutrient loss. Cereal rye seeks nutrients in the soil, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur, making those nutrients more readily available for the next crop. The nutrients, including nitrogen, are stored in the plants’ stems and become available when the rye plants decompose in the soil.

The winter-hardy crop is easy to establish and, when planted this fall, can offer many soil benefits for next year’s crop. In addition, cereal rye cover crops help prevent soil erosion and can improve soil health by adding significant amounts of organic material into your cropland.

Cereal rye is often blended with other cover crop plants, such as Austrian winter pea, crimson clover and hairy vetch. Adding a winter legume to the mix can enhance the eventual decomposition of the cereal rye biomass.

Reducing weed pressure

Reducing populations of Palmer amaranth, commonly known as pigweed, and other difficult to control weeds is one bonus to a winter cover crop production system.

Because cereal rye grows into a thick biomass, it can successfully inhibit weed growth. In addition, cereal rye plants express a biochemical called allelopathy that inhibits the germination of weed seeds. By spring, the chemical disappears just in time for the next crop to be planted.

What you need to know to get started

Cereal rye is easy to grow and will thrive in most soil types, cropping systems and crop rotations. For example, rye can be drilled into standing cornstalks or aerially applied into an in-season corn crop, allowing the rye to begin germinating prior to corn harvest. The rye seeds do not need to be covered with soil to grow, as long as the soil contains adequate moisture and the minimum soil temperature is 34 F for proper germination.

It is generally recommended that the cereal rye crop be terminated at least 14 days prior to planting of spring crops. Growers are advised to kill the crop when it is 8 to 12 inches tall.

A properly timed herbicide application will terminate the rye cover crop, while preventing the plants from producing seed. Timing a burndown application can be difficult, however, if fields are too wet for spray equipment to get into the field. In addition, the preferred herbicide (glyphosate) used for termination requires the same warm air temperatures favored for plant growth.

To learn more about the benefits of cover crops, visit For guidance on variety selection, talk to your local Mycogen Seeds agronomist or seed sales professional.

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