What Late Cover Crops Can Do?

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Since 2011, I have been planting cover crops and I have grown different types: spring oats and radish; cereal rye; and cereal rye with rapeseed. I like cereal rye and we grow 250+ bushel per acre corn after cereal rye. It can be done. Why do I like Cereal Rye?

In an effort to keep my costs as low as possible, my cover crops are planted after corn and soybean harvest in October and depending on the year that maybe early October or late October. The seed is applied with my fall dry fertilizer – no additional fee for adding the seed. This past year in 2016, the cereal rye was seeded on October 15 and shallow incorporated on the 17th. In picture #1, you see what the cover crops look like on November 21, 2016 – the fields are green but not very impressive.

On March 28, 2017, the same fields were photographed and I dug small soil pits down to a depth of 20 inches. Why only 20 inches deep? Well, because I am seeing deep compaction layers in soil pits in the area at a depth of 12 to 16 inches. I wanted to see if the cereal rye planted in mid-October had roots that had grown at least 20 inches deep and beyond the deep compaction layer. Picture #2 shows what the rye looked like on March 28, just prior to its termination. It had grown quite a bit during the winter and this is what I see every year.

The shallow 20 inch deep pits showed that the cover crop roots had grown to this depth and had gone deeper. The roots I found were nice white, healthy roots and they were not little tiny hair roots. I could easily see these roots looking down into the pits. Picture #3 is an example of what I found.

To sum all this up, cereal rye broadcast applied at 50 pounds to the acre in mid-October can give you a crop whose roots will grow deeper than our deep compaction layers. The benefit to me is that my crops this summer have channels through the soil that will allow them to access deep moisture and nutrients in the middle of our typically hot and dry August weather. It might be something to think-