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Acres of Knowledge

All issues concerning Small Farms, Agriculture, Local Food Systems, and the Natural Resources.

Do You Know How to Control Your Cover Crop?

During the past month, I have talked with several farmers and learned that they had assumed that all cover crops could easy be controlled with herbicides.  To make matters even worse, most of them have planted a cover crop that is difficult to control with herbicide; and this is their first time growing a cover crop.  In other words, they have the “perfect” plan for not controlling that cover crop.

It seems the problem is traced back to people who are confusing two cover crops that have the same word in their name – Rye. The two crops are different.  Annual Ryegrass is a forage crop and Winter Cereal Rye is a grain crop.

Recently, annual ryegrass has gotten a lot of attention as a cover crop. According to the Midwest Cover Crop Council, it has excellent abilities to break up soil compaction, add tilth to soil and scavenge excess soil nitrogen. This is due to the fact that this plant has a large, deep fibrous root system compared to its above ground plant.  All of this is making annual ryegrass a popular choice for farmers wanting to plant the “best” cover crop.  However this same root system makes annual ryegrass more difficult to control, even hard to control.  To control annual ryegrass, Purdue University research recommends “to apply glyphosate to small plants (that are less than 6 inches tall) and at an increased rate of 1.5 pounds acid equivalent per acre” (Bob Johnson).

On the other hand, cereal rye has very good abilities to break up soil compaction, add tilth and scavenge excess soil nitrogen.  Its root system is not as fibrous as annual ryegrass and its above ground plant is bigger. While cereal rye’s cover crop attributes may not be quite as good as those of annual ryegrass, but it is easily controlled with herbicides. To control cereal rye, the same Purdue research recommends using 0.77 pounds acid equivalent per acre of glyphosate to plants less than 16 inches tall.

If you have questions about terminating cover crops, you can contact me at or (217) 877-6042. I have been working with cover crops since 2011.

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