ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

How much rye should I use in my no-till oats/vetch/rye mix?

Posted October 18, 2007

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Click here to send it to Jeff.

Dear Jeff,

I have the opportunity to buy 50 acres near where I live. It has not been farmed the past year but was allowed to grow in weeds. I would like to take the John Deere no-till drill I have and drill into the weeds with some oats (1 bushel per acre, 15 pounds of hairy vetch and rye mixture). I already have the oats and vetch but need to know how much rye to plant in order to out-compete the weeds. I know you mentioned to me earlier on about using straight vetch, but at almost $4 a pound it is too expensive to put on 28 pounds. I want to plant corn in that field next spring, using the roller I ordered from I & J Mfg.

Thank you,

Vaughn A. Jackson

Dear Vaughn,

Here’s the deal: To give your corn a fighting chance in spring you’ll need to be sure to have a good solid stand of weed-free cover crop in order for the roller/crimper to work and for the cover crop to prevent new weeds from germinating. If you have a heavy stand of established weeds now, the chances of success by simply no-till drilling the cover crop into an established weed zone are drastically reduced. If you are convinced the rye/oats/vetch has a fighting chance, the rate I’d use for the rye would be around 1.5 bushels per acre.

The 15 pounds of vetch may or may not supply enough nitrogen to your corn. Much depends on the residual nitrogen still in the soil. You’ll need at least 200 pounds of nitrogen contribution from the vetch, since only about 50 percent will be available to the corn that first year. Vetch should have no problem producing that much if the stand is good.

Ask yourself – and this may depend on whether the weeds there now are annuals or perennials – whether a cover crop can really get established enough to compete this fall for water and nutrients.

Good luck,