Corn School: Can cover crop benefits outweigh 'cemetery syndrome'?

When it comes to planting corn into cover crops, cereal rye is a popular option for Ontario growers.

It’s also a top choice for Illinois growers, says Crop-Tech agronomist Ken Ferrie who shared cover crop strategies at the CropSmart 2019 conference held earlier this month at Kitchener, Ont. In this episode of RealAgriculture’s Corn School, Ferrie notes that Ontario farmers typically have longer rotations, often including wheat, which provides more cover crop options.

Cereal rye is also a preferred option for Ferrie’s grower clients because it can be planted up through to U. S. Thanksgiving. “That gives us a chance to get it in,” he says. But growers have to be careful not to antagonize the following corn crop. They have to be mindful of allelopathic concerns, or what Ferrie refers to as ‘cemetery syndrome.’

“Corn doesn’t like to grow where corn grows (corn on corn) and it doesn’t like growing where wheat or rye would grow.

“The other thing to watch is how big the rye gets ahead of corn,” says Ferrie. If it gets too big, growers could be dealing with a carbon or nitrogen penalty. “You have to decompose that rye,” he adds.

In the interview, Ferrie tells RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin that cover crop success in corn comes down to timing and picking the right cover crops for your cropping system. “Probably the ones we have the best luck with are oats and radish,” he says. “If we can get in there and get (oats and radish) established behind the bean crop we can get some pretty good growth in the winter.”

Ferrie prefers to kill out cover crops in the fall to avoid corn antagonism in the spring. But growers always have to ask whether they are getting a return on investment, he says. “The problem with killing a cover crop in the fall is we don’t have enough growth to do any good… and then you’re wasting money.”

Click here for more Corn School episodes.

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