The Sharp Edge: Stripping cereal rye into corn production

Drumbo, Ont. farmer and agronomist Tony Balkwill

Effectively integrating a cereal rye cover crop into corn is not for the faint of heart.

Cereal rye can deliver tremendous benefits for a corn production system but there are challenges. Many growers wrestle with how to get uniform establishment in the fall; determining the best nitrogen and tillage plans; and finding that sweet spot for timing termination before corn planting.

On this of The Sharp Edge, Maizex Seeds agronomist Greg Stewart visits with farmer and agronomist Tony Balkwill, who operates NithField Advanced Agronomy near Drumbo, Ont.

Balkwill has developed a system to try to deal with these challenges. He plants twin-row rye with potash in the fall in a strip at 30-inch centres. Potash and rye seed run out of separate tanks, but they can be mixed together, says Balkwill. Key to establishing the rye is to plant into some kind of tillage — in this case strip tillage. This allows for a reduced planting rate and produces uniform rye emergence and stand establishment.

See related: The Sharp Edge: Strip-tilling corn with Tony Balkwill

In the spring, Balkwill uses the same strip till bar, shifts 30 inches off the rye, and puts down strips where the corn is then planted. “We do the strip till in the middle, nowhere near the rye so we have that non-disturbed, tilled bed with no rye and no allelopathic effects,” he notes. (Story continues after the video.)

Based on his experience, Balkwill aims to terminate the rye two weeks before planting. He says he will continue to test how long he can “let it go” but timely termination is important to prevent the rye from tying up nitrogen.

Balkwill adds that even when spring fieldwork challenges arise and termination is delayed, “we do know that we have the rye nowhere near the corn row so we have no issues planting into it.”

When it comes to the benefits of rye, Balkwill notes that this system only requires 30 pounds of seed per acre. With the reduced cost of seed compared to broadcast, his soil still realizes the soil tilth and health benefits rye delivers. The rye also helps anchor soil on fields with high levels of typography, including a lot of flood plains.

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