By Steve Fulling | December 6th, 2019
This month I am going to visit with you a little bit on what I know about Annual Rye Grass (ARG).
ARG, is obviously a grass which will overwinter in most cases. It has a tremendous root system that not only attaches to soil particles that will help with erosion control, but also sequesters excessive nutrients left over from the previous crop until the next cash crop can use them.
Okay, so I made it sound easy in one small paragraph.
First, have a plan, determine what your goal is. Any type of change in your agriculture system needs a plan. Ask questions, look at options and get a game plan. In my neck of the woods, by late September you need to be wrapping up seeding ARG. I personally want to see some growth before winter, albeit a couple of inches, it will still have tremendous erosion control with just a small amount of growth. My personal experience is planting with a grain drill gives me my best stand. No special equipment needed. You can also have it flown on, (heavier rates will be necessary and stands can be spotty) prior to crop harvest. It can be spread with spreader and fertilizer and lightly worked in after harvest or I am aware of a couple of operations that have gandy units on their combine crop heads (grain tables in this case) that seed right behind the head but before the chaff is spread on top from the rear discharge. As you can see, there are many ways to get ARG seeded and they all have their own merits and challenges.
ARG has a little bit of a “boogeyman” mentality throughout the farm sector. My research has led me to believe that is due to some bad experiences that could have easily been avoided. Make sure that you know the variety that you are planting and make sure that it is only one variety, so when it breaks dormancy it all becomes active at the same time. This will allow for termination to be successful. I have been taught to wait until you have mowed your yard the second time to consider the temperatures warm enough to kill ARG. DO NOT plant VNS (variety not stated) for cover crops that need to be terminated in a timely fashion.
Termination can be a challenge. Once it is actively growing you need to kill it. I try to do this as soon as possible. 1quart of glyphosate is what I use. I will also add ½ pt of 24d for any broad leaves that have started. I will also add a pH adjuster to get water pH down to around 5-5.5. Helfire is one additive, vinegar will also work, and I am sure there are several others on the market. Do not add any other chemicals such as residuals. Your only goal at this stage is to kill your ARG. The period of 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. is your spraying window on this. You want time for the chemical to absorb into the plant before the cooler night slows down the translocation. Obviously, at this time of year (late February to late March) it can be a challenge to get over the ground. In this case I have a side by side and sprayer with 40’ booms to spray with. 5 gpa of overall product allows me to get over 40 acres per tankful and still get a good kill while not tearing up the ground.
If you go with ARG, do not plan on working the ground after killing or to kill, I imagine it would work up about as good as your yard, very soddy. No-tilling can also be a challenge but with the advancements with aftermarket products can make it a very tolerable experience. Trash whippers, spiked closing wheels are a few that come to mind.
Lastly, as mentioned above, find someone that has used ARG for a while and pick their brain. I was fortunate to listen to Mike Plummer and Cameron Mills from Indiana and picked up a lot from them. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work as planned the first year. Give it at least 2 - 3 years before making a final decision on whether you want to keep it in your suite of practices.
Steve Fulling serves with the Crawford County Soil & Water Conservation District, and is the AISWCD Area 4 Vice President. Fulling also co-chairs the AISWCD Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy Subcommittee.