Planting green

Soybeans planted in a field of cereal rye that was knee-high and still green last year turned out OK — plus there were a lot of soil health, erosion control and water management benefits.

“Planting green” has worked out better than OK for Doug Toussaint and his sons, Nick and Brad, the past couple of years.

They have planted a couple of fields of soybeans into living stands of cereal rye. Sometimes the rye stand is thin because the Toussaints planted the rye as a cover crop after harvesting wheat. Last year, they planted into a thick stand of rye that had volunteered after a full-season rye crop grown for seed had been hit with hail just before harvest.

They didn’t spray out the rye out before planting soybeans because they wanted to be sure they could get through the field even if it rained heavily during the planting season.

“Excess moisture in the spring has been one of our major challenges the last several years,” Nick says.

Living rye plants use soil moisture, improve infiltration and support tractor traffic.

The Toussaints sprayed the rye with glyphosate after they seeded the soybeans.

Rye benefits
The cereal rye provided many other benefits, including:
• protecting the soil from wind erosion over winter
• suppressing weeds and keeping the ones that did emerge so small that they were more easily controlled
• maintaining the soil temperature in an ideal range all summer long
• boosting soil health

Soil organisms had living roots to feed on all year long. Over time the population of soil organisms in the soil with living roots will grow, says Abbey Wick, North Dakota State University Extension soil health specialist. An increase in biological activity, and more importantly diversity, gradually cycles soil organic matter more efficiently to release nutrients for crop use.

Yields competitive
Soybean yields in green-planted fields have been competitive with the soybeans planted in their other fields, Nick says.

NDSU researchers haven’t seen a difference between soybeans planted in living rye and rye residue over the past couple of years. But there’s been a limited number of trials, and results have only been based on observations. NDSU hopes to expand its research into green planting in the rye.

Currently the Risk Management Agency requires a cover crop in the Dakotas to be killed two weeks prior to planting to be eligible for crop insurance coverage. More data is needed before it can be listed as an approved practice. North Dakota State University is conducting such trials.

Centrol crop consultant Lee Briese, Jamestown, N.D., recommends monitoring soil moisture closely when deciding when to kill rye before planting soybeans, even if you are planning to kill the rye two weeks before planting. If the field starts to dry out, spray the rye a day or two before you think the moisture level would be fit for planting to keep the rye from drying out the soil too much.

The Toussaints plan to continue experimenting with planting green.

“We seem to learn something each year to make it work a little better. There are so many advantages in water management and soil health that we are going to try to keep something green and growing in our fields as long as we can,” Nick says.

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