Planting a rye cover crop following corn has brought a big boost in soybean yields for Milton Ruppert and his son, Allen.
"In the last four years we have had soybean yields hitting and topping 50 bu/acre," reports Ruppert, of Hillsboro, IL. "Before that we were getting 35 and 40 bu/acre."
The winter cover crop offers obvious soil erosion-control benefits. But the greatest benefits come the next summer, after the rye has been killed with herbicides prior to soybean planting.
"The rye settles down, creates a mulch and does a good job of holding moisture - and moisture loss is one of our big problems here," Ruppert says. "The rye also helps hold down weeds.
"We are very happy with our cropping system," he adds. "People on common lighter soils need to hold their moisture."
They farm mostly light soil, some of it called "post oak" land. Their crop rotation on the level to slightly rolling land consists of corn, soybeans and wheat. Corn yields run between 120 and 130 bu/acre and wheat averages 55 bu/acre. Soybeans doublecropped after wheat yield 28-30 bu/acre.
After they harvest corn, they broadcast 1 bu/acre of rye with a John Deere 750 no-till drill. They use Dakota, a medium-height variety that doesn't produce so much foliage that it interferes with their no-till drill.
Sometimes the rye hardly shows up in the fall. But it starts growing again in early spring, and has good growth by soybean planting time.
Roughly a week before planting, they have a custom applicator apply 1 qt of Roundup and 1 pt of 2,4-D per acre to kill the rye. Later, they make one application of Select for postemergence weed control.
The Rupperts say the growing rye crop sometimes helps them get their soybeans planted on time, removing moisture from soil that otherwise would be too wet for planting.
That could be a disadvantage in dry springs, with the cover crop further depleting soil moisture. But, it hasn't been a problem for the Rupperts.