Cereal Rye: Cold Hardy Cover Crop, Ideal After Corn & Soybeans

Cereal Rye: Cold Hardy Cover Crop, Ideal After Corn & Soybeans

Monday, October 4, 2021
The hardiest of cereals, rye can be seeded later in the fall than other cover crops and still provide benefits such as significant reduction of nitrate leaching and exceptional weed suppression. Rye is the best cool-season option for absorbing unused soil nitrogen. It has a quick-growing fibrous root system that can take up and hold as much as 100 pounds of residual nitrogen until spring. Rye is also one of the best cool- season cover crops for outcompeting weeds, especially small-seeded annuals such as lamb’s quarters, pigweed, velvetleaf and foxtail. 

While rye is susceptible to the same insects that attack other cereals, serious infestations are rare. Rye reduces insect pest problems in crop rotations and attracts significant number of beneficial insects. Rye can establish in very cool weather. It will germinate at temperatures as low as 34 degrees Fahrenheit. Vegetative growth requires 38 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. 

A big concern in planting rye late in the growing season, say following corn, is the lack of a large amount of above ground biomass. A misconception is that if there is no large above ground growth that there is no benefit to the soil and the planting of rye would be a waste of time and money. However, research has shown that even with limited above ground growth there is a substantial below ground root system. 

The next picture, taken of a field just outside the city of York, shows a small above ground biomass growth of 3-4 inches, but a root system extending down to 14 inches. Also note the earthworm activity that is present indicating a healthy soil that is recycling nutrients.

The picture below is a field that was aerially seeded with rye and radishes in a soybean field when the leaves were turning yellow and just starting to fall off. 

The Upper Big Blue NRD has multiple programs to assist producers with the planting of cover crops, including cost share for qualifying producers. Call the office at 402-362-6601 for more information.