Annual Ryegrass Cover Crop Reaches Depths To Aid Yields

Advocates point to extraordinary root development that improves soil structure while helping crops reach water and nutrients several feet below the surface.

Annual ryegrass works hard as a cover crop. It sends roots down as far as 6 feet in no-till fields, breaking through compaction layers to reach deep water and nutrients, and it leaves improved soil structure and higher organic content in its path, according to Mike Plumer.

Plumer, an agronomist with the University of Illinois Extension Service, has been working with no-till since 1976, with various cover crops since 1980 and with annual ryegrass for the past 8 years. He’s dug a lot of pits in no-till fields to check root development and soil conditions.

Annual ryegrass also excites Dan DeSutter, a no-tiller in Attica, Ind. “If you were going to design a plant to be the ultimate cover crop, annual ryegrass would be it,” he says.

Seeing Is Believing

“On my farm this past spring, annual ryegrass in the first week of April had 6 to 9 inches of top growth, and when we dug into the field, we found roots at the bottom of the 52-inch pit — and that’s in the first year of cover crops on this long-term no-till field,” he adds. “Even more impressive was the sheer mass of roots in the top 18 to 24 inches. I don’t think any piece of steel is ever going to be able to do as well as what Mother Nature did right there.”

Plumer and DeSutter both praised the effectiveness of annual ryegrass during a recent no-till field day sponsored by the Putnam and Hendricks counties’ Soil…

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