Slowing the Flow: A Research Trial to Evaluate the Use of Winter Rye as a Cover Crop, Green Chop Forage, and Nurse Crop in the Lake Superior Watershed of Wisconsin.

Project Overview

FNC07-691
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $5,321.20
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: rye

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: cover crops, no-till, nutrient management

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    Our three farms are located in the Marengo Valley Watershed in Ashland County, WI. Myself and Todd Berweger own and operate dairy farms. Combined we manage 850 acres for alfalfa, mixed hay, com silage, corn grain, and small grains. Combined we have just over 100 lactating cows, 130 heifers, calves, and dry cows. Bob Mika is a beef producer using managed intensive grazing with 60 cows. He currently manages 640 acres with grazing or for hay production. All three farms are family farms that have been in operation for many years.

    The farm fields in the Marengo Valley Watershed occur primarily on heavy clay soils that can be difficult to manage in the cool and wet climate of the region. The severe drought over the last five years has depressed crop yields and made it difficult to supply enough feed. Fall planted winter rye has provided some flexibility in our cropping systems and is proving to be a reliable source of feed
    early in the growing season.

    All three of us have long practiced sustainable farming. I have had and implemented a conservation plan for my entire farm for many years. Through the plan I have kept livestock out of my wooded acres and creeks. I have installed a livestock yard with a filter strip and other water protection strategies. I have installed a shallow water pond to enhance wetland area. I practice a six-year rotation on all tillable acres with alfalfa being my primary crop. I have a nutrient management plan to guide my manure and fertilizer applications. I have also worked with my county Land Conservation Department to decommission two wells on the property. Both Todd and Bob have and I follow nutrient management plans and conservation plans. Bob utilized managed intensive grazing for his beef herd.

    The one challenge all farmers face in the Marengo Valley Watershed is the operational and temperature constraints posed by the heavy clay soils. We typically work the soil in the fall prior to next year's spring planting when it is reasonably dry (in most years) so it warms faster in the spring. The problem is this leaves the soil exposed all winter and can result in rapid storm water and spring runoff, moving both our soil and nutrients. Working winter or annual rye into the cropping system could allow us to better protect the soils along with possibly reducing our input costs.

    PROJECT GOALS:
    A. To evaluate whether alfalfa, red clover, or bireme clover could be successfully under-seeded into fall-planted winter rye through spring frost-seeding or spring no-till seeding.
    B. To evaluate the effect of harvest timing of winter rye on under seeded legume growth and establishment.
    C. To evaluate the tonnage and quality of winter rye when harvested at different times.
    D. To develop a system to plant winter rye in the fall, under seed legumes in the spring, harvest the winter rye as a green-chop forage, high-tonnage heifer feed, and/or grain and straw, and then manage the under seeded legumes as a forage crop.
    E. Determine whether spring-seeded winter rye could work as a nurse crop when seeded with alfalfa.

    PROCESS:
    The trial was implemented as follows:

    2007/2008 Trials
    Winter rye was seeded at three different farms in the fall of 2007. On April 4th and 5th of 2008, red clover, bireme clover, and alfalfa were frost-seeded into the standing rye at each of the farms at a rate of 15PLS/ac with three replications for each legume. At the Richardson Farm, 1/3 of the rye planting was harvested at early-heading, 1/3 was harvested at early-milk, and 1/3 was allowed to mature. Immediately following the early-heading rye harvest, the same legumes were no-tilled into the rye stubble at a rate of 15 PLS/ac with three replications.

    At the Berweger Farm, half of the rye planting was harvested at late-heading and the other half was allowed to mature. Immediately after the late-heading harvest, red clover, alfalfa, and berseem clover were no-till seeded into the rye stubble. For a comparison, brown-ribbed sorghum-sudan grass was also no-till seeded into the rye stubble.

    At the Mika Farm, half of the rye was harvested at milk stage, along with the no-till plots. In these plots, the same three legumes were no-till seeded two days after the rye harvest, each with three
    replications.

    In summary, the following treatments were applied for the 2007/2008 planting:
    Site 1 (Berweger Farms):
    • Red Clover Frost Seeded, Winter Rye Allowed to Mature (3 reps)
    • Alfalfa Frost Seeded, Winter Rye Allowed to Mature (3 reps)
    • Berseem Clover Frost Seeded, Winter Rye Allowed to Mature (3 reps)
    • Red Clover Frost Seeded, Winter Rye harvested at late-heading (3 reps)
    • Alfalfa Frost Seeded, Winter rye harvested at late-heading (3 reps)
    • Berseem Clover Frost Seeded, Winter rye harvested at late-heading (3 reps)
    • Red clover no-till seeded into stubble after rye harvested at late-heading (3 reps)
    • Alfalfa no-till seeded into stubble after rye harvested at late-heading (3 reps)
    • Berseem clover no-till seeded into stubble after rye harvested at late-heading (3 reps)
    • Controls for each with no seeded legumes (3 reps)

    Site 2 (Mika Farms):
    • Red Clover Frost Seeded, Winter Rye Allowed to Mature (3 reps)
    • Alfalfa Frost Seeded, Winter Rye Allowed to Mature (3 reps)
    • Berseem Clover Frost Seeded, Winter Rye Allowed to Mature (3 reps)
    • Red Clover Frost Seeded, Winter Rye harvested at milk (3 reps)
    • Alfalfa Frost Seeded, Winter rye harvested at milk (3 reps)
    • Berseem Clover Frost Seeded, Winter rye harvested at milk (3 reps)
    • Red clover no-till seeded into stubble after rye harvested at milk (3 reps)
    • Alfalfa no-till seeded into stubble after rye harvested at milk (3 reps)
    • Berseem clover no-till seeded into stubble after rye harvested at milk (3 reps)
    • Controls for each with no seeded legumes (3 reps)

    Site 3 (Richardson Farms):
    • Red Clover Frost Seeded, Winter Rye Allowed to Mature (3 reps)
    • Alfalfa Frost Seeded, Winter Rye Allowed to Mature (3 reps)
    • Berseem Clover Frost Seeded, Winter Rye Allowed to Mature (3 reps)
    • Red Clover Frost Seeded, Winter Rye harvested at early-boot (3 reps)
    • Alfalfa Frost Seeded, Winter rye harvested at early-boot (3 reps)
    • Berseem Clover Frost Seeded, Winter rye harvested at early-boot (3 reps)
    • Red Clover Frost Seeded, Winter Rye harvested at milk (3 reps)
    • Alfalfa Frost Seeded, Winter rye harvested at milk (3 reps)
    • Berseem Clover Frost Seeded, Winter rye harvested at milk (3 reps)
    • Red clover no-till seeded into stubble after rye harvested at early-boot (3 reps)
    • Alfalfa no-till seeded into stubble after rye harvested at early-boot (3 reps)
    • Berseem clover no-till seeded into stubble after rye harvested at early-boot (3 reps)
    • Controls for each with no seeded legumes (3 reps)

    At all three locations, legume stand counts were taken immediately after each harvest and again in the early fall after all winter rye had been harvested. Winter rye forage yield was measured using
    scissor plots immediately prior to each harvest. The forage was then dried to determine dry matter yield. The forage quality of the harvested winter rye forage was measured at the Richardson Farm. Grain yield was measured using the combine's grain meter for the Mika and Berweger Farm. Scissor plots were used to determine grain yield at the Richardson Farm.

    2008/2009 Trials
    During the fall of 2008, winter rye was seeded at two locations. At both locations the rye was seeded at lower rates and later in the season. Combined with a dry fall, the winter rye stands were much less vigorous going into the winter than the 2007 plantings, and thus, had lower stand densities at the time of the spring legume seeding. In the spring of 2009, red clover and alfalfa were frost-seeded the first week of April at a rate of 15PLS/ac. The rye was allowed to grow until maturity and harvested as grain and straw. Legume stand counts were taken in mid-September at two locations.

    At a third location, winter rye and alfalfa were seeded together in the spring of 2009 at a rate of 4lbs PLS for the rye and 17lbs PLS for the alfalfa. The rye was seeded as a nurse crop. Total forage
    yield was measured for the field for the season.

    PEOPLE:
    Jason Fischbach, the UW -Extension Agriculture Agent for Ashland and Bayfield County assisted with the experimental design, data collection, and report writing for this project. In addition, he helped with the field day on July 25, 2008 and writing Research Bulletins for his newsletter.

    Many people attended the July 25 field day including other farmers from the region and agency staff from the NRCS, County Land Conservation Departments, and West Wisconsin Land Trust.

    RESULTS:
    The data and results from this project are outlined and highlighted in the Research Bulletin titled: "A Winter Rye Cropping System for Farmers in Ashland and Bayfield County" developed by Jason Fischbach. In summary, the project has demonstrated that the following cropping system is a viable option for producers in our region and is likely to work elsewhere.

    1. Seed winter rye after com silage is harvested (no later than October 1) at a rate between 1 and 2 bulacre. The goal is to have a well-established rye stand with 50-75% ground cover to increase the chance that the spring-seeded legumes will establish. The left side of Picture 1 shows the ideal winter rye stand conditions at the time of frost-seeding in late-March or early-April.

    Picture 1. The rye stand should have around 50% soil coverage at the time of seeding in the spring as shown in the left side of the picture to ensure soil-seed contact for the under-seeded legumes. For
    Ashland and Bayfield County, such a stand can be achieved by planting 1.5bu/ac during September, at least in most years.

    2. Frost-seed red clover, alfalfa, or a mix as soon as possible in the spring at a rate of 15PLS/ac. This can be done with a four-wheeler equipped with a broadcast spreader. The seeding should be done when the soil freezes at night and thaws during the day.

    3. Harvest the rye at early-heading for a high-quality green-chop forage or silage, at early-heading for higher-tonnage heifer feed, at milk for bedding, and/or at maturity for grain and straw. The earlier the rye harvest, the better the chances of legume establishment.

    4. In September, evaluate the under-seeded legume stand. If density and vigor are sufficient, allow the legumes to grow into the next year. Most likely there will be volunteer rye mixed in with the legumes that will over-winter and add to the tonnage of the first cutting the following year. If the legume establishment is poor or spotty, decide whether to manage the stand as is or start over with something else.

    5. Alternatively, the established legumes can be tilled in and used as a green manure crop for the following year's crop.

    Such a cropping system provides a number of environmental and economic benefits compared to the typical system of establishing new forage seeding in the year after corn silage that involves plowing in the fall and disking, dragging, and seeding in the spring. Environmentally, the winter rye provides cover to reduce soil erosion and it scavenges for nitrogen that would otherwise leach from the fields. It also provides soil organic matter. Economically, the winter rye provides high-quality forage early in the spring and broadcast seeding is a very cheap method to seed. In some soils and conditions, the rye can be seeded in the fall with a broadcast seeder and a light dragging - avoiding significant tillage and seeding expenses.

    DISCUSSION:
    Perhaps the most important thing learned from this grant was how to under-seed legumes into a stand of fall-planted winter rye. Given the harsh winters and short growing seasons of our region, winter rye is one of the few dependable winter grains. Unfortunately, seeding legumes along with the rye in the fall is not an option given the poor chances of the tender legumes seedlings surviving the winter. By seeding winter rye a little later or at a lower rate, we can now broadcast seed in the spring and have a good chance of establishing a legume stand with the winter rye. We also learned that seeding no-till legumes into rye stubble is not a very good option on clay soils. The shrink/swell properties of the clay prevent good soil-seed contact and decent germination.

    The limitation to this method will be what has to be done to the soil in the fall to prepare for the winter rye planting. If the soil has to be plowed, disked, and dragged just like any other planting,
    than perhaps it makes more sense (at least economically) to seed the legume with a grain nurse crop in the spring. That said, if feed is short or nutrient or soil loss is a concern, than the system developed by the grant project is a great option. Furthermore, if the drought becomes the new climate for our region, we will need crops that due most of their growth in the spring and fall when moisture is more likely to be available.
    Given the results of the 2008 trials, we felt it important to repeat certain components of the trial in 2009. Specifically, because the success of frost-seeding can vary considerably from year-to-year, we repeated the frost-seeding trial at two locations in 2009. Because our UW-Extension Agent was able to assist with legume stand count data collection, we had some savings in the data collection line item and we used that to purchase additional legume seed and pay for additional tractor time for the rye harvests. As it turned out, repeating some aspects of the trial in 2009 was valuable in confirming the importance of seeding the rye at a lower rate or later in the season to provide for some exposed soil at the time of frost seeding.

    OUTREACH
    A field day was held on July 25, 2008 and 43 people attended. Unfortunately, a lightning storm caused the event to be shortened, but nonetheless, it was a great opportunity to show the research plots to others and discuss use of winter rye.

    The preliminary results of the project from the 2007/2008 trials were published in the UWExtension Agriculture Newsletter for the farmers in Ashland and Bayfield County. The article was sent to nearly 350 farmers. The final Research Bulletin was prepared by Jason Fischbach and sent to the same 350 farmers in December 2009 and posted on the Bayfield County UW-Extension website. During January, the results of the work will be highlighted in a presentation by Jason Fischbach, scheduled to be given at five locations as part of the annual Northern Safari presentation series offered by UW-Extension. The presentation will be given to audiences in Ashland, Phillips, Ladysmith, Maple, and Spooner, Wisconsin.

    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.