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Be Cautious Following Cereal Rye with No-Till Corn

Understand the dynamics of nitrogen use before planting season.

Tom Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

November 15, 2013

2 Min Read

One of the easiest and most effective cover crops to use to get started according to farmer reports is cereal rye. The main advantage is that it can be planted later in the season and still emerge and come back with decent growth next spring. Many other cover crops must be planted much earlier. Some might make a case you could still plant cereal rye even now and have a shot at getting a cover crop for spring.


The problem is being careful in how you handle the next crop. Barry Fisher, state agronomist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, recommends starting with soybeans behind cereal rye instead of corn. It's all about the potential tie-up of nitrogen early in the season after planting which could affect young corn if you're not prepared.

Paul Marcellino, Howard County Extension ag educator, agrees with Fisher, and recommends being careful if you're coming back with corn no-tilled into cereal rye. He is advising farmers participating in a five-county study funded by Clean Water Indiana in central Indiana. The goal is to learn how cover crops work on ground where tillage has been a tradition for decades.

The problem with corn after cereal rye is that the rye captures nitrogen, but then ties it up in the residue until the rye begins to break down after being burnt down. Corn needs ample nitrogen early in the season because that's when plants make key decisions about ear size, kernel number and other factors that impact yields.

"We advise front loading your nitrogen program if you're going to no-till corn into cereal rye," he says. "That may mean applying starter with more nitrogen than usual on the corn to get more nitrogen out there early."

Once the rye residue breaks down, nitrogen will be released to the plants, Marcellino notes. The secret is supplying enough other nitrogen so that N is not limiting early in the season.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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