Green fields are great, but farmer’s need to control cereal rye now

Spring is the time to manage cover crops, especially the fast-growing cereal rye.

What a crazy year! We had summer in March and spring all winter. It is time for farmers to control their cover crops. The most important cover crop to control right now is cereal rye, which grows very quickly in the spring. It will begin to grow at spring temperatures of 38 degrees. So if you haven’t controlled your rye yet, you need to do it now! MSU Extension recommends killing rye between 8 and 12 inches tall. The taller the rye gets, the greater the risk that the rye will tie up soil nitrogen.

Cereal rye
Cereal rye rapidly growing in the spring

Organic farmers should be thinking about tilling their ground to control rye when the rye height is 8 to 12 inches high. Even though organic farmers usually wait longer into the spring to kill the rye, this year’s unusual spring has resulted in more cover crop growth than normal. Organic farmers often have nitrogen as a limiting nutrient, so they need to control the rye cover crops to maximize the nitrogen potential. Organic farmers do not want to tie up nitrogen in the soil, especially if planting corn.

If you are using rye for green chop, allow the rye to grow to the boot stage.

Rye that reaches maturity will tie up nitrogen in the soil, and if your field has mature rye you should consider applying nitrogen at planting if you are growing corn. If you are planting soybeans, our research through the MSU Extension Cover Crop Program indicates that the maturity of the rye doesn’t matter.

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