Rain, Rain Go Away
This is one of the latest starts to planting that I can remember. It’s a different feeling driving around the county at the beginning of May and not seeing a single piece of equipment in a given field. There is no doubt that we are eager to begin field work and are anxious to start but it is also important to be cautious to present soil conditions.
One of the inputs that we use on our farm is cover crops. The purpose of cover crops comes down to a lot of different benefits to the environment and farm. Common benefits to a cover crop can be reducing soil erosion, suppressing weeds, and it is an additional nutrient supply to the soil.
One of the main cover crops that we use is cereal ryegrass. Many times you have probably driven by a field in the spring thick with ryegrass assuming it is wheat, this is because they look very similar to each other. Particular traits to ryegrass that we value is its ability to take up excess nitrogen for later in the season, improve water infiltration within the soil profile and reduce soil erosion.
With a late rainy spring comes hard decisions with annual ryegrass – to kill or wait to kill is the question. Timing is the most important aspect to controlling cover crops in the spring because of the potential issues you may have the longer you wait to kill the crop. Every farm manages their cover crops differently but one of our main concerns in the spring is if the ryegrass is too thick or too tall to plant into. In an ideal season we spray to kill the ryegrass when it is around 15 inches or corn stalk height and then plant the corn/soybean rotation without having to worry about ground matting. This year, the continual rain has made making those decisions that much tougher as the rain keeps us out of the field but the crop just gets taller.
The later it gets the choice becomes assessing each field of ryegrass at its height and thickness to determine if it is worth killing before it is planted. The two main reasons this is such a process of decision making is 1). if you kill the cover crop first and cannot get into plant soon enough, the ryegrass will fall creating a thick mat on the ground, holding in moisture making it hard to plant or create an ideal seedbed. The next thought is 2). If you wait to kill the crop and it continues to rain, it will grow taller making planting conditions less than ideal, having to clean the units every so often. This will also knock down ryegrass plants, not killing them completely but laying them down, making it hard for the herbicide to be effective on the cover crop.
These are the some of the tough choices that we have come upon this year with the excess rainy season we have had and managing cover crops. Like any farm knows, some of the greatest inputs to the land can also be the greatest detriments as well. Patience is key when it comes to farming.
Happy decision making on your farm during these rainy days!