The Rye Cover Crop Discussion

By Woody Woodruff

Cereal rye going to seed

There have been great discussions this year from farmers and researchers on what to do with planting into a cereal rye cover crop. As more and more farmers start using cover crops, networks of socially supportive farmer groups have been emerging. It seems that the internet is making managing risk on a farm a great tool for finding peer solutions. Do not get me wrong, the coffee shop is still one of the most entertaining locations for rural communities to discuss world issues, but most cover croppers have been emailing, posting, or tweeting other cover crop farmers when questions arise. This spring the main topic has been the unusually fast growth of cereal rye. If you buy a certain variety of a grain, it has an estimated height to maturity and length of time it should takes for the plant to start heading out for grain production. This is important in growing cover crops because you do not want grain production to happen before you plant or terminate a cover crop like cereal rye. Having cover crops that are producing grain seeds is not a good thing when raising other types of cash crops. If your cover crop does head out and produces seed, that seed will drop to the ground and eventually grow again. The problem is if your cover crop is a small grain like rye and next year you will be raising wheat, the elevator or miller could reject your wheat because it has rye mixed in the wheat.

On a normally cold winter, the ground temperature is slow to warm up in the spring and cover crop growth would be slower. If corn is your cash crop, you plant in early spring and cover crops heading out are not that big of an issue. But with soybeans, you need to wait longer past the last frost, and this year that has caused a problem with the fast growth of cereal rye. Some farmers have used different varieties that are smaller or slower in growing. Other conditions could be affecting this situation. Having researchers in on those internet discussions can also help to come up with farmer driven solutions. A great place to link up with the farmers and researchers is to attend local field days or workshops.  Sign up for the Illinois Stewardship Alliance newsletter and stay in the know about upcoming events where you can link to other farmers.