Winter Rye as a Companion Crop in Establishment of Alfalfa

Final Report for FNC93-029

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1993: $2,168.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1995
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $3,492.00
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Expand All

Project Information


The objective of this project is to determine if alfalfa can be established in the spring (this is a common practice in northeastern Nebraska) using winter wheat or rye instead of oats. I put my hay up as dairy quality and this method prevents any herbicide residue in the hay in a “clears seeding” method.

My farm has a 7 year crop rotation that includes about 90 acres of alfalfa that stands for 3 years. My crop rotation is Corn, Grain Sorghum, Corn, Oats as a nurse crop for alfalfa, and 3 years of Alfalfa. These are all grown without the use of chemicals. The use of winter rye would give me another cutting of quality alfalfa to sell. I also have a ewe/lamb operation, and finish out the lambs, and a cull cow/calf operation, buy breed cows in Nov.-Dec. calf in Mar.-Apr. sell cows in Aug. and most calves in Sept. then repeat it again.

Sustainable Practices:
- Ridge till-minimum tillage for corn, milo, soybeans for 25 years
- V plow to kill alfalfa by under cutting it for 10 years
- Crop rotation corn, milo or soybeans, oats, and alfalfa for 25 years
- Pasture rotation with 6 paddocks for 12 years

- Dave Olson, Olson Seed and Feed, lined up seed and observer with interest
- David Holshouser and Charles A. Shapiro, collected soil samples, assisted with weed counts, and planted and collected data from Concord test plot.
- Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, published news release about project and tour date. NSAS newsletter article.

1. To see if alfalfa could be established using rye or winter wheat in this region and if so what would be the effect on stand and yield as compared to conventional oats as a nurse crop.
2. I divided my field into 16 plots so each sample could be randomized three times. My samples were oats for grain, oats for hay, rye and winter wheat, all as nurse crops for the alfalfa. I also made two first cutting harvest dates to check for harvest yield and quality. Weed counts were also taken to see if rye had any effect on weeds. I also had two ways of establishment, one was planting the alfalfa at the same time I planted the nurse crop, disked, and harrowed and the other was planted nurse crop disked it in then planted alfalfa then harrowed in it.

1. Nurse crop and alfalfa planted at same time plant counts
[Grasses=nurse crop and other grasses]
[Counts were made in a one square foot acre on June 24]
Oats for grain, Wheat
Grass counts: 19 stems, Grasses: 19 stems
Broad leafs: 5.5 stems, Broad leafs: 3.5 stems
Alfalfa: 9.5 stems, Alfalfa: 11 stems

Oats for hay, Rye
Grasses: 20 stems, Grasses: 19.5 stems
Broad leafs: 3 stems, Broad leafs: 1 stem
Alfalfa: 11 stems, Alfalfa: 11.5 stems

2. Nurse crop disced in then alfalfa harrowed in:

Oats for grain, Wheat
Grasses: 20 stems, Grasses: 22 stems
Broad leafs: 4 stems, Broad leafs: 2 stems
Alfalfa: 19 stems, Alfalfa: 25 stems

Oats for hay, Rye
Grasses: 21 stems, Grasses: 25 stems
Broad leafs: 1 stem, Broad leafs: 1 stem
Alfalfa: 27 stems, Alfalfa: 27 stems

[Editor's note: To see additional tables please contact NCR-SARE at: [email protected] or 800-529-1342.]

I met my goals in that winter rye and wheat worked well in the establishment of alfalfa, with winter wheat having a lead in total pounds protein per acre, this was visible to the eye because the alfalfa was taller in the wheat strips. The only change I would make in the future is that I would make 3 harvests instead of 2 if rainfall during the growing season permitted. I intend to repeat the project again this year (1995) only on a larger scale (40 acres). The impact could be substantial depending on soil types and rain fall.

I informed others of this project at other workshops that I was a participant in December 1993, January and February 1994. The main event was a farm tour I hosted at my farm on June 23, 1994. There were 12 people here that evening. The number was small but I consider it a big success because it was the first time in 15 years of hosting a tour that neighbors from as close to a mile came to see what I was doing and asking questions to my face, we also served lunch.

I was unable to attend 2 meetings in January because of my health. I am now going to give a workshop at the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society’s Annual meeting in Columbus, Nebraska on February 25, 1995. I was invited to give the results of the project at the Alternatives for Cutting Cost and Increasing Profits meeting on February 16, 1995 in Wausa, Nebraska.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.