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Features from the Farm: Winter wheat, winter rye for forage followed by corn or soybeans in an organic system

Throughout history, farmers have sought to improve yield and productivity of the land they farm. One method is to double-crop, or grow two crops in the same season. In warmer climates, farmers often raise a crop of soybeans and corn or some other combination of crops within one year. In the northern climates like Minnesota, the growing season has been too short to do this. We can, however, grow crops such as winter rye or winter wheat for forage and then follow with a grain crop such as corn or soybeans. This may work well for organic production since most organic farmers plant their corn and soybeans later to avoid early spring weed flushes. This last year, we tried this method on 40 organic acres at the WCROC.

In the fall of 2015, we planted 20 acres of winter wheat and 20 acres of winter rye. The mild winter allowed both crops to survive without any winter kill. We harvested 10.8 tons per acre from the winter rye on May 18 and 8.7 tons per acre on the winter wheat on May 26. Both crops were put up as high moisture haylage and bagged with an Ag Bag silage bagger. We then planted one half of each winter crop to a 79-day corn and early soybean on June 2. This method allowed for good soybean yields this year. The yield was over 40 bushels per acre. We have not yet harvested the corn, but expect at least 120 bushels per acre.

Using winter wheat and winter rye for a forage crop before corn or soybean production worked out well for us this year, but it may not work every year due to weather and workload. Wet weather can delay harvesting of the winter cereals and have a negative impact on forage quality. Wet weather can also affect the planting date of corn which is more critical than soybeans.

We also had challenges preparing a good seedbed due in part to cloddy finished fields. As a result of the poor seed bed, we had a more uneven corn stand than other fields. This meant we had to use a rotary hoe instead of harrow for the first weed control pass. The first rotary hoe pass was not as effective because of the clods.

Winter rye may have an allopathic effect early on corn. The poor seedbed could have also caused lower early vigor. The allopathic effect from the rye may have helped soybean weed control as the soybeans planted on the rye field had less weeds. Weeds are often yield limiting in an organic system. More research is needed on the interaction of the allopathic effect and weed control on corn and soybean yields in an organic system.

This system may not work as well for producers who want to put the forage up as dry hay because of the time needed due to dry time. Usually, we cut the forage crop and harvest and bag it the next day. In the case of the winter rye, we needed two days of drying. Cooler spring weather may affect the drying and quality of the crop. We chopped both the winter wheat and winter rye so we could quickly plant the corn and soybeans.

(Source – http://www.morrissuntribune.com/news/local/4142023-features-farm-winter-wheat-winter-rye-forage-followed-corn-or-soybeans-organic)

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