Editor's Note: Jerry Grigar, a retired NRCS staffer who now farms north of Lansing, Mich., wrote the following note in response to a recent Farm Journal article, 10 Tips to Shorten Your Cover Crop Learning Curve

I had a friend who planted most of his fields to a cereal rye cover crop. He had a disaster in spring 2023 when the weather turned dry for 60 days. His germination was poor where he tried to drill soybeans as the ground dried out and he had trouble getting soy seed in moisture with his no-till drill. His fields vary in number of years in continuous no-till. He has a big problem in some fields with deer eating his soybeans as fast as they come up. He wanted to plant in the headed-out rye hoping the beards on the rye would deter the deer feeding on his soybeans.

The dealer selling him the rye seed suggested using 50 pounds to the acre. I tried to convince him to sow only 20-30 pounds per acre (per Dave Brandt's advice) as he is on flat ground in the Saginaw Valley Shiawassee flats silt/fine sand soil or the grass prairie land near St. Charles, Mich. Earthworms struggle to multiply in the fine silt sand but are prevalent on his clay soils under long-term no-till. 50 pounds per acre of cereal rye dried his land out, so he had a poor stand and 2/3 of his normal 60 bushel per acre yield. He had a bad experience with rye in no-till soybeans. His vertical-tilled beans yielded near his normal 60 bushels per acre.

To save on rye cover crop cost, I use bin run rye grown on Plainfield sand. It's not my best soil for corn or beans. My friend has some sandy fields, and I suggested setting aside a few acres to grow his own cover crop seed and seeding at the lower rate of 30 pounds per acre to save money on seed cost.

2023 Rye Cover Crop Observations

I had good luck with 30 pounds per acre of rye seeded for cover crop, even with the dry weather for 60 days in the spring after planting.

Once the rye reached knee high, I sprayed it with Dual Sensor and 2,4-D. It slowed the rye growth and helped retain the soil moisture as I was trying to manage the rye for a long drought. The beans were already planted in the green standing rye. You won't find the herbicide recommendation anywhere. I sowed Banvel (dicamba-resistant) beans, not Enlist beans. They yielded 65 bushels per acre last fall. I lost 2 acres to woodchucks feeding in that field and replanted. We killed 15 with a rifle. Smoke bombed the holes to get the rest of them.

If you apply the 2,4-D Ester before the beans emerge at the crook stage below ground, it does not seem to hurt them. Ester, not Amine, because Amine sticks around in the soil longer. I've been doing this for years, but I don't talk about it at meetings when I am on stage. The label for 2,4-D burndown on soybeans is currently 14 days ahead of planting for 1 quart per acre and 7 days before planting is 1 pint per acre I believe. This old trick of  spraying 2,4-D after the beans are planted up until the bean seedling crook stage of emergence below ground came from my dad on conventional dry beans. We had field bindweed and Canada thistle patches before glyphosate. We cultivated and hoed but still had bindweed patches, which plug the bean puller at harvest and stopped the finger pickup and the harvester. We had to cut it off with a knife so it would turn again. Not a fun dad! As Dwayne Beck says, tillage does cure perennial weed problems. No-till black beans planted solid or in rows with years of glyphosate and 2,4-D and Banvel has made my farm bindweed and Canada thistle free.

One of the problems with mid-April early planting of beans is the weed pressure comes later, so I want the rye to get bigger to suppress lambsquarters and waterhemp. I used 30 pounds per acre of rye cover. It worked great for suppressing both weeds, despite the drought.

I also no-tilled black beans into a rye cover that was headed out. The rye cover was also sown at 30 pounds per acre. I had to use my corn planter in mid-June to plant the seed 3 inches deep on top of the moisture. 95% of the seed grew. The other 5% in one spot in the field came up later when it finally rained June 25. I killed the rye with a double application of generic paraquat at 1 pint per acre and 20 gallons of water splitting the middle of the first application with the second application.

My Cereal Rye Advice & Recommendations

Despite the early drought, seeding rye at the lower rate was good advice. The NRCS 340 cover crop standard in Ohio probably calls for a higher seeding rate in EQIP contracts and in a dry year in transitional no-till that may be bad advice. Dave Brandt's recommendation of 20-30 pounds per acre is good advice. We need to have the standard changed. That will help transitional no-tillers, save money and drought-proof emergence in a dry spring.

We need to give the weed science folks some money to test the 2,4-D on beans and rye cover crops up until the beans are in the crook stage. Maybe Ohio can set the new standard for spraying 7 days after planting soybeans with 2,4-D Ester.

This allows the tough-to-control perennial weeds more growth time because dose makes the herbicide work better when there is more weed surface to translocate 2,4-D to the roots. Adding a few ounces of Sensor seems to improve the kill as well. 8 ounces of Sensor in the fall on wheat stubble suppresses water hemp, lambsquarters and emerging marestail. Rye helped me control marestail, and so did Banvel and Enlist beans. Spraying 2,4-D and Banvel in the fall also helps.

I had to have my beans custom harvested as I lost my combine in a tool shed fire in 2022. But it was fun to see the yield monitor on the John Deere combine jump from 60 to 90 bushels per acre as we crossed the field. Deer and woodchucks take their toll on yield average. One spot at the base of a small hill hit 103 bushels per acre. It is creek bottom at the end of a long river terrace where all the topsoil and soil organic matter has accumulated — benefits of 42 years of long-term no-till and great soil health.

Related Content

[Podcast] Benefitting from Long-Term No-Till with Jerry Grigar, Part 1

[Podcast] Benefitting from Long-Term No-Till with Jerry Grigar, Part 2

Cover Crops Pay Big Time In A Drought