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Winter rye fits rotation between corn and soybean

Winter rye fits rotation between corn and soybean

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Rye cover crop

Rye cover crop growth in late April. Rye was aerial seeded at the corn physiological maturity stage the previous fall. 

Editor’s note: The following was written by David Karki, South Dakota State University Extension agronomy field specialist, for the university’s website.

Recent rain events have brought cover crop thoughts back into producers’ minds.

However, for the row crop growers who like to practice a strict corn-soybean rotation, the species selection is limited.

Winter rye or cereal rye has been a go-to cover crop choice among many row crop growers in the Midwest.

One of the most important attributes that winter rye possesses over other winter cereals, like winter wheat or triticale, is its tolerance to extreme cold temperatures. Further, rapid early spring growth and allelopathetic characteristics (ability to suppress growth of other plant species) to suppress tough weeds have also been favored by producers.

Diversity and rotation

Cereal rye is a cool-season grass species that provides much-needed diversity to the corn-soybean system that consists of two warm-season crops. Planting rye after corn and ahead of soybean is a better fit, because soybeans can tolerate later plating in the spring better than corn, which allows rye to accumulate more spring biomass.

Studies conducted in southeast South Dakota have not shown any negative impact in soybean yields when planted in late May to early June in fields with preceding rye cover crops. Also, soybeans generally do not show negative impact on yield due to preceding rye cover crop.

The sequence of winter rye within the cropping system is important to maintain the agronomic performance of both cash crops. Rye, when planted after soybean and terminated close to corn planting, has shown negative effects on corn in South Dakota environments. However, when rye was terminated at least two weeks prior to corn planting, it has negated those detrimental effects.

More studies are needed to examine the true effects of rye cover crops on subsequent corn crop.

Rye in the fall is generally planted by two different methods: broadcast at corn physiological maturity and drill seeded after corn harvest.

Spring biomass

Another important aspect of the rye cover crop is spring biomass that can not only provide soil residue to enhance overall soil health but also supplemental forage.

One question that arises frequently is the spring biomass differences between broadcast and drill-seeded methods. Studies conducted at the South Dakota State University Southeast Research Farm for several years have shown biomass from broadcast seeded to be 70 to 90% of the drill-seeded biomass. The difference in the range is largely due to the seeding time and precipitation following the broadcast seeding.


  • Seeding rate: 40 pounds per acre as cover crop; 70-75 pounds per-acre if weed suppression is the goal.
  • Best fit seems to be in a corn/soybean rotation, planting after corn.
  • Growth in the spring is usually good, even if the fall is dry.
  • If the spring is dry, spray out by early May. Rye grows rapidly in mid to late May — do not let it get away unless you are in dire need of biomass.
  • Soybean plants grown after late-terminated rye may show some sulfur deficiency in plant tissues, but yields have not been impacted by it.

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