Farm Progress

People choose to terminate this fast-growing cover crop at different stages in the spring.

January 16, 2018

2 Min Read
TAKE IT DOWN: This plot of cereal rye was planted in midsummer for demonstration purposes. Even if rye is planted late, expect good growth in the spring. Be ready to terminate it on time.

By Don Donovan

While the winter winds are howling and the snow is piling up, now is the time to finalize termination plans for cover crops that don’t winter-kill and will grow this spring. Many farmers have a termination plan that begins at the time the cover crop is planted. Each cover crop species that overwinters has concerns that need to be a part of the termination plan.

Cereal rye is a spring-growing cover crop. No matter how much growth it had in the fall, when the weather warms up this spring, cereal rye will take off and grow; therefore, it needs to be scouted frequently. If you’re planting corn after cereal rye, you need to adapt to the potential for nitrogen tie-up if the rye gets very tall and mature. That typically means applying starter fertilizer with adequate nitrogen content. 

Successful cover crop farmers throughout Indiana find that if they terminate cereal rye while it’s still in the vegetative stage, less than 12 inches tall, they don’t see a lack of available nitrogen for their young corn crop. To be on the safe side, these farmers still put on some nitrogen in their starter fertilizer, as noted, to ensure that young corn has sufficient nitrogen in the early growth stages.

Rye before soybeans
Farmers who plant soybeans into a cereal rye cover crop have other concerns. Soybeans can do well in a nitrogen-starved environment, but if the rye gets too large, there may be soil moisture issues.  When rye is in its rapid growth stage, it can remove large amounts of water from the soil. This can be good if it’s a wet spring and not so good if it’s a dry spring.

Keep an eye on the cover crop and soil moisture. Be cautious about terminating rye too far in advance of planting soybeans, especially in mature rye stands. Once terminated, the dead rye can mat down on the soil surface and keep it from drying out. To overcome this, many farmers have success terminating immediately prior to or after planting the soybeans “green” into the standing rye. 

If summer weed suppression from cover crops is a goal, you will need as much growth of rye as possible before terminating it. Be prepared to deal with the potential issues, and scout for potential pests frequently.

Cereal rye can be a great cover crop with a multitude of benefits. Making it work means management and scouting. Finalize a termination plan today!

Donovan is a district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service based in Parke County, Ind. He writes articles on behalf of the Indiana Conservation Partnership to help educate growers about the specific steps it takes to achieve improved soil health on their farms.

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