Growing Cereal Rye
Fall is a great time to establish a cover crop in the field after harvest. If you’re just getting started with cover crops, work the kinks out with one simple, hearty species before moving on to more elaborate cover crop mixes.
Jamie Benning is an Extension water quality program manager at Iowa State University. She recommends planting cereal rye.
"It is readily available for farmers, it’s a low-cost seed, it performs very well, it overwinters so you get soil protection and nutrient uptake both in the fall and in the spring. We’ve had a lot of farmers use it so we have gathered a lot of input from them and their experiences, and they’re able to share those with other farmers," says Benning. "So, for all those reasons, that’s why we’re recommending cereal rye, at least as you get started."
The above ground biomass protects the soil. As it rains, it holds the soil in place. Below ground, cereal rye has a deep and fibrous root system which helps break up compaction, improves the soil structure, and hangs on to nitrogen till spring.
There’s another bonus for livestock producers.
"Farmers that have livestock and have the ability to graze those cover crops, they are the ones that can really capture the value pretty immediately with cover crops, and cereal rye being one of those," she says. "It’s a great option for farmers that have grazing animals and can utilize those cover crops for forage."
Cereal rye is planted by flying it over the field as the crops are dying down, or by drilling it into the soil immediately after harvest.