Farm Progress

Nine-year on-farm study finds improved yields following cereal rye.

January 19, 2018

3 Min Read
CASH CROP YIELD: The 12 participating farmers across Iowa have reported mostly no effect from the cereal rye cover crop on a corn and soybean yield.

Cereal rye cover crops added to a corn-soybean rotation have little-to-no negative effect on yield, and actually increased soybean yields in eight site years and corn yield in two site years. That’s according to a nine-year study conducted by the Iowa Learning Farms and Practical Farmers of Iowa. Results for 2017, the ninth year, were recently compiled and released.

In 2008 and 2009, 12 farmers across Iowa established replicated strips of a winter cereal rye cover crop and strips with no cover crop within their corn and soybean rotation. The cover crop was either drilled after harvest or aerially seeded into standing crops each fall. At each site, the cover crop was terminated the following spring by herbicide one to two weeks before planting.

When the project began, the farmers were concerned that the winter cereal rye would impact their corn or soybean yields negatively. But after harvest was completed each year, the farmers reported that this was not the case. When properly managed, cover crops had little-to-no negative effect and, in some cases, actually improved yields.

Farming in Taylor County in southwest Iowa, Kelly Tobin says the top benefits of adding a cover crop to his operation are reduced soil erosion and improved soil health. “I had put in pattern tile 3 feet down that never worked until I had a cover crop for three years. The tile now removes standing water after heavy rains, thanks to the roots and biological activity underground.”

Tobin also notes that although it has taken time, he has been able to achieve an increase in crop yields. In 2016, Tobin reported a 19-bushel-per-acre advantage for corn, and in 2017, an 11-bushel-per-acre increase in soybeans. 

Using cover crops in a corn-bean rotation
“Proper management is key when incorporating cover crops into a corn-soybean rotation,” says Liz Juchems, a cover crops educator for ILF. Knowing what cover crop to use, when to plant, and how and when to terminate are the main components to successful implementation, she says. Effective termination with herbicide requires an actively growing plant. Planter settings may also need to be adjusted to handle increased crop residue.

There are many resources to help farmers with answers to these management details online and in print, as well as the option of contacting a cover crop farmer in your area through the ILF or PFI network, a local Extension field agronomist or an NRCS field specialist.

Results of the 9-year study online
The farmers in this study include Bill Buman, Harlan; Randy Caviness, Greenfield; Jim Funcke, Jefferson; Devan Green, Conrad; Rick Juchems, Plainfield; Whiterock Conservancy, Coon Rapids; Mark Pokorny, Clutier; George Schaefer, Kalona; Jerry Sindt, Holstein; Rob Stout, West Chester; Gary and Dave Nelson, Fort Dodge; and Kelly Tobin, New Market.

The update for this study is available online at the ILF website.

Established in 2004, ILF has become a trusted source of conservation information and research while helping build a Culture of Conservation by encouraging adoption of conservation practices. Farmers, researchers and ILF team members are working together to identify and implement the best management practices to improve water quality and soil health while remaining profitable.

Source: Iowa Learning Farms




Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like