Equipping farmers to build resilient farms and communities.
With corn and soy prices low, some farmers are thinking about how they can cut costs to protect their bottom line. Growing cereal rye for seed is typically cheaper than purchasing cover crop seed, so growing out your overwintered cover crop may be a good cost-cutting option.

Tim Sieren of Keota began growing cereal rye for seed and ryelage years ago. Tim took time out of his busy planting preparation to discuss how someone could pivot their rye cover crop to seed for the following year. He three tips are:

1) Make sure you have a thick, healthy stand Typically a cover crop planted earlier and/or with a drill will have a better stand. (24-25 plants/square foot is ideal)

2) Don’t neglect the rye crop. “The best thing about growing small grains is the low input costs. You’ve already paid for the cereal rye seed. Corn/soy inputs might cost you $300 per acre; you can save on small grains. But you’ll be in a better place if you think about adding some fungicide to prevent head scab (fusarium) and maybe some growth regulator to prevent lodging,” Tim says.

3) Think about how you’ll harvest and store the seed. While Tim has a combine appropriate for harvesting small grains, he says, “Most of the combines today are too big to harvest small grains. But maybe someone in your neighborhood would have an old combine that might work,” Tim advises. “Make sure you have a bin with a solid floor and aeration to cool down the rye.”

“Everyone has a field somewhere where you can try out a small grain. Why not?” Tim says.
Now that it’s started to warm up more, it’s time to get out in the field and look at the plant stand. For rye, an ideal plant stand is 20 to 24 live plants per square foot.

Selling seed and straw can bring in a lot of revenue - northwest Iowa farmer Sam Bennett estimates close to $650 per acre!  See his revenue and costs broken down in this blog. 

Even if your small grain crop doesn’t make specs for seed, you could use the grain as feed for your livestock.  Check out this blog on feeding rye to swine.
Cover crop termination resources
If you decide not to grow out your cover crops for seed or feed, make sure to check out farmers' suggestions for rye ahead of corn and rye ahead of soybeans.
Markets for small grains
If you decide to grow out your small grains for harvest, you’ll want to think about your end use. Some options include:

  • Nutritious silage or forage for livestock

  • Cover crop seed for this fall on your own farm (and your neighbors'?)

PFI put together a series of short, informative videos on basics of small grain production. These are a great starting point for farmers who are new to small grains.

PFI’s website also hosts resources on nearly every small grains-related subject imaginable.
Given the current advisory to avoid congregating in groups, Practical Farmers is pivoting to hosting some field days online. Please watch for updates on our website; in Practical News, our weekly email newsletter; on our Facebook page; and if you are a member, on our email discussion lists.
Hosted by: Wade Dooley and Iowa Learning Farms
April 24 | 1 – 2 p.m. | Online
Hosted by: Iowa Learning Farms and Northeast Iowa RC&D
May 6 | 12 – 1 p.m. | Online

Hosted by: Tama Soil & Water Conservation Distract
June 23 | 3 – 6 p.m. | Grinnell, Iowa
Want to host an online gathering to talk about cover crops? We’ll help you with the tech, and you invite your neighbors. Contact Sarah if interested sarah@practicalfarmers.org

Are you planning or hosting a cover crop field day—virtual or in person? Send the details to rebecca@practicalfarmers.org, and we’ll include it in our next newsletter.
What's your experience with growing small grains (cereal rye, oats, winter wheat, etc.)
I used to grow small grains but have stopped
I currently grow small grains
I'm intrigued but haven't grown them yet
I'm not interested
Want to expand further on this poll topic? Reply to this email and we may feature your thoughts in the next issue of "The Practical Cover Cropper."

Send us your cover crop poll ideas! We want to know what YOU want to know, reply to this email with your ideas for the next poll.
Previous poll results:
When will you start planting corn this spring? (asked 4/11)
  • I've already started -- don't tell my crop insurance agent - 0.0%
  • As soon as crop insurance allows - 0.0%
  • In the next week or two - 56.3%
  • End of April or early May - 43.8%
Ready to invest in cover crops on your farm?  You could earn $1,600 or more to help offset the cost fill out the application now to see if you’re eligible. Farmers who enroll before July 1 may also be eligible for a discount on seed and application through Iowa Cover Crop.
Sarah Carlson
Strategic Initiatives Director
(515) 232-5661
Chris Wilbeck
Independent Contractor
(515) 232-5661
Rebecca Clay
Strategic Initiatives Assistant
(515) 232-5661