Cover Crops: Try Rye
Spin-Free Field Day
If you’re looking for company spin-free farm tours, the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) has a deal for you. Each summer, PFI hosts a number of field days across Iowa in which farmers can share knowledge about farming practices. This mid-June, PFI held a field day hosted by Keota, Iowa, farmers and PFI cooperators Tim and Ethel Sieren.
Fenceline Soil Probe
Next time you walk an untilled fencerow dividing fields, plunge in a soil probe. You’ll find pliable and mellow soil that differs from slabby and compacted tilled soil. You may even have a hard time getting the soil to stay in the soil probe. Fenceline soil immediately fell out after I removed the soil probe.
Cover Crops Curb Erosion
This mellow soil that enhances water infiltration and crop root growth is what no-till emulates. “With no-till, soils can become mellow, just like those in a garden,” says Sieren.
The bad news is that garden soils can also wash away. That’s where cover crops like cereal rye planted by Sieren come into the picture. Benefits include curbing erosion when crops like corn are planted into cereal rye. “Cover crops fit naturally with no-till,” says Sieren.
Sieren raises his own cereal rye for cover crop seed. This small grain also has merit as cattle feed forage. It can be baled, but Sieren thinks a better option for cattle is to chop it and bag it.
The no-till and cover crop combo can also help microbe activity. “Two-hundred bushel (per acre) corn and 60 to 70 bushel (per acre) soybeans can produce quite a bit of residue,” he says. Still, microbes stimulated by cover crops can devour lots of that residue come planting time. Microbe activity also boosts soil quality and soil health.
Red clover also has merit as a cover crop. Sieren is cooperating with PFI on a trial to determining how much N frost-seeded red clover can replace on cereal rye ground seeded to corn in 2014.
How It Works
Here’s the timeline on this trial.
* Fall 2012. Planted winter cereal rye.
* Spring 2013: Frost-seeded red clover into rye.
* Summer 2013: Harvested rye and rye straw.
* Spring 2014: Compared red clover strips with no additional N and a normal sidedressed N rate against strips with no clover fertilized with planting time and sidedressed anhydrous ammonia applications.
Sieren terminated the red clover this year on April 23 and planted corn on May 6.
For the first few weeks after planting, corn with N made by clover held its own on the no N strips. In mid-June, though, those strips looked like they could use sidedressed N. In a dry year, Sieren theorizes the N produced by clover could satisfy many corn N needs. In a wet year like 2014, though, it’s likely strips with applied N will have the edge. Results will be compiled at year’s end.
Cereal Rye As a Cover Crop