Steve Berger, Wellman, Iowa, plants cereal rye cover crop, as opposed to annual ryegrass.

Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin Extension and research forage agronomist, explains the difference: “There is no such thing as cereal ryegrass. Cereal rye is a small grain; ryegrass (Italian, annual or perennial) is a forage. ‘Rye’ is used by some as slang for ryegrass, but this would not be appropriate, because either can be a cover crop.”
             “There are many different varieties of cereal rye but we don’t pay much attention to the variety, and a lot of the rye is bagged without a stated variety,” he says. “Winter cereal rye is very cold-tolerant and planted into Canada.”

Berger plants cereal rye, meaning it can overwinter and continue growing in the spring.
“Annual ryegrass is generally suited for climates from southern Iowa to the south and east and is a popular feedstuff in the southern U.S. and eastern Corn Belt,” Berger says.

“There are some reports that some newer varieties of annual ryegrass have a more ‘northern’ range, but this will have to confirmed through trials and experience,” says Tom Kaspar, USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment.

Berger adds, “It is difficult to establish annual ryegrass here (east-central Iowa) because of the cold winters--it will often freeze off here and die.

 “You may hear of farmers using annual ryegrass in Wisconsin, Michigan, northern Indiana and Ontario. This annual ryegrass is planted close to the lakes where there is a more moderate temperature zone,” Berger says.

Kaspar advises potential cover-crop growers start planning the spring before, or at least by Aug 1. “My advice is to start small, and by that I mean one acre or 10 acres or whatever a farmer can ‘afford’ to learn and experiment with.”

To see the dramatic root growth of another cover crop, oilseed radish, known for breaking up compaction with its strong roots, see http://bit.ly/RadishRootGrowth

For more cover crop information, visit the Midwest Cover Crops Council website, www.mccc.msu.edu/, or the cover crop blog: http://plantcovercrops.com/.