One of the cover crops picking up in popularity amongst those deciding to try cover crops is cereal rye. It does a fair amount of rooting, takes up any leftover nitrogen in the fall, and is relatively easy to kill in the spring, at least compared to some other cover crops.
The use of rye as a cover crop is nothing new. Farmers dedicated to conservation and resource-based farming were having it aerial seeded into standing corn in the 1950s. Then when farming went fence row to fence row in the '70s, most people forgot about it as a practice. With the emphasis on soil health and helping soils be more conducive to rooting, it's back on the radar.
One problem, Lisa Holscher notes, is that rye can go from small to very tall almost overnight. Holscher is in charge of a special project for the Conservation Cropping Initiative and works out of Pike County.
The rye in this picture is above waist high, depending upon your height, or above tractor high, at least if you're driving a small utility tractor. It's flowering, with yellow pollen in the air, and is past the point of burning down, most would say. If you burn it down now and it turns wet it will create a mat over the soil that will prevent it from drying out quickly.
The other option is to plant, then follow with burndown. There are those who claim they have done it successfully, but it might not be something to try if you haven't raised cover corps before.
One advantage of rye this tall is the weed control it supposedly provides. One farmer is experimenting on the side with a small patch of rye, letting it grow and planting potatoes and tomatoes into the tiny patch to see just how good the weed protection can be.
For more, download our free report, Cover Crops: Best Management Practices.