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Be Cautious Following Cereal Rye with No-Till Corn

Be Cautious Following Cereal Rye with No-Till Corn
Understand the dynamics of nitrogen use before planting season.

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.

Careful with corn: Barry Fisher urges farmers to be careful no-tilling corn after rye that was seeded into or after soybeans this fall. Be sure to supply ample nitrogen this spring to the crop.

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.

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