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

Can I plant a rye cover crop in the spring?

Posted December 13, 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 was unable to plant a cover crop (rye) on some land this fall that I intended to roll and plant soybeans into next spring. Can I still plant the rye or a suitable cover crop this coming spring? I live in southwestern Ohio. If rye grain isn't suitable in the spring, what do you recommend?

Thanks again,

Vaughn A. Jackson

Dear Vaughn,

This is a good question, one which several farmers before you have asked. I’m not sure when you plan on rolling, but spring-planted rye generally doesn’t produce as much biomass as fall planted does. This can lead to poor kill rate and lack of sufficient ground cover to prevent weeds from expressing themselves. You could try a heavy seeding of spring oats (at least 3 bu/ac) planted as early as possible, but your rolling may well be delayed to the first or second week of June. You could also try something like field peas, spring barley, or even buckwheat. Send me an email on what you decide to plant, then let me know how it works out so I can share your experience with others. This is a relatively new technology for all of us, and we have a lot to learn.

Good luck,