Q&A

DEAR NEW FARM:

Matthew Ryan’s article about rye as a cover crop for beans, Rye lessons learned here at The Rodale Institute, recommends planting the rye perpendicular to the beans to prevent weeds in between the 7-inch rye rows. Doesn't that just change where the weeds are rather than reduce the number of weeds? Any benefit to perpendicular if broadcasting rye instead of drilling? I’m planting rye now.

Thanks for your response,
Mike Moore
Maryland

 

DEAR MIKE:

In response to your question about planting direction, let me explain why I suggest perpendicular planting.

First, let’s make sure that we are on the same page. We have been experimenting with no-till planting organic soybeans. To do this, we use cover crops to act like mulch and suppress weeds. In order to kill the cover crop and use it as mulch, we roll over it with a roller. The roller is attached to our planter so that the direction we are rolling is the direction we are going to be planting our soybeans.

Now let's back up a minute. When we plant rye, we drill it in 7-inch rows with our John Deere grain drill. Normally, farmers (including us) plant their cover crops in the same direction that they plant their cash crops. However, when rolling down a rye cover crop for no-till planting soybeans, it is beneficial to roll the rye down and plant the soybeans perpendicular to the direction that the rye was planted.

This is due to the fact that when you roll down rye in the same direction as it was planted, you are likely to have gaps in your cover crop mulch layer (rolled-down rye). This is because of the 7-inch row spacing. Some of the time, the rye will roll down and cover the ground nicely. However, throughout the field you will see areas where the rye gets bunched to one side and exposes the 7-inch gap between rye rows.

If you plant perpendicular to the cover crop, you are rolling all of the rye across the rows. Thus, even if the rye gets bunched to one side, the 7-inch gap will not be exposed. (This is much easier to show someone in the field than to explain it in an email; We’ll try to remember to post a picture and link back to this exchange when our rye grows out.)

So if the rye covers the soil more completely, then you will have fewer weeds that pop up in your field. This is different than just changing the location of the weeds. Based on this logic, there is no benefit to planting perpendicular in broadcasted cover crops. Why? Because there is no 7-inch row to expose in broadcasted cover crop fields.

I hope my response adequately answered your question. However, please let me know if I was not clear or if you have additional questions.

Have fun planting,
Matt Ryan
The Rodale Institute

 

 

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