Winter Rye Cover Crop: When to terminate?

Winter rye is a hearty cereal grain that is considered a “workhorse” and, although it is not the highest quality forage crop, it is often chosen for its reliability and versatility. It thrives on well-drained, loamy soil but it also performs adequately in heavy clay as well as droughty, sandy soils. It can grow in low-fertility soils; it prefers a soil pH of 5.0 to 7.0, but can tolerate soil pH ranges from 4.5 to 8.0.

Winter rye establishes and grows at cooler temperatures so it can be planted later than most other cover crops and still performs well. It is the most winter-hardy of all cereal grains, tolerating temperatures as low as -30°F once it is well established. It can germinate and grow (with limited vigor) at temperatures as low as 33°F.

Compared to other cereal grains, winter rye grows faster in the fall, providing quick cover to otherwise bare soils. It persists well, even during severe winters. Once spring arrives, it breaks dormancy before other cereal grains and quickly begins to produce biomass. Its quick growth in the spring can catch farmers off guard! If not managed properly, excessive amounts of this cover crop’s spring residue may actually delay cash crop planting or impede its growth and development. The decomposing winter rye may “tie up” nitrogen and delay its availability to the silage corn crop. Therefore, termination strategies should be carefully considered and planned.

In Franklin County winter rye cover cropped fields are almost ready to roller crimp! Many fields are still too damp due to recent rain events. When roller crimping, it is important the crop be at proper maturity (anthesis) so that it does not bounce back up after being rolled down. If you roller crimp too soon and it raises back up, it will likely shade out your cash crop seed, causing establishment/growth issues.

Waist-high Winter Rye in St. Albans Bay, Vermont on May 18, 2022, Nearly at Anthesis

Looking for more information? Check out the resources below or inquire directly with or call our office at 802-524-6501.

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