Town of Grant farmer participates in unusual application of winter rye

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — Tom Knutson says he would have been willing to bet the farm that planting winter rye with an airplane would not work.

Good thing he didn’t.

Because — guess what?

It works.

Winter rye was seeded by airplane on 200 acres of standing corn on Knutson’s farm in the Town of Grant in September.

The aerial application on Knutson’s farm was part of 7,000 acres aerially seeded with winter rye in Dunn, Chippewa and Barron counties by Reabe Spraying Services out of Waupun between Monday, September 22, and Wednesday, September 24.

“I would have bet the farm that it wouldn’t grow, but it did,” Knutson said.

“They seeded the rye on Monday. I chopped the corn on Tuesday, and by Sunday, the rye was up a good two inches,” he said.

Rain that fell later in the week after the rye was seeded helped it germinate, Knutson noted.

Farmers plant winter rye as a cover crop in the fall to help protect their farm fields from wind and water erosion. In the spring, the rye can be plowed under or disked in when the farmer is ready to plant the next crop, thereby also adding nutrients to the soil.

“I said I would give it a try. I didn’t think it would ever grow, but it works,” Knutson said.

The advantage to aerially seeding rye is that rye should be planted by October 1 — except in most cases in this part of Wisconsin, the corn and soybeans are not yet ready to be harvested by October 1.

According to Dan Prestebak, Dunn County conservationist, a couple of soybean fields were also aerially planted with rye.

“They said it would have been better a couple of weeks earlier before the soybeans lost so many of their leaves, but we tried some to see what would happen,” Prestebak said.

Knutson said when he plants rye with his grain drill, he applies it at two bushels per acre. The rye planted by airplane was seeded at one bushel per acre.

“That’s why I thought it wouldn’t grow. It was only half the amount I usually plant. There were some (rye) seeds stuck on the corn, but apparently not enough to make much of a difference,” Knutson said.

In addition to helping control soil erosion and improving soil quality, winter rye helps suppress weeds.

According to a fact sheet from UW-Extension: “Before the era of herbicides, cover crops such as rye and buckwheat were used to help clean a field of weeds. Buckwheat, with its fast growth, is effective at outcompeting weeds through shading or ‘choking’ out weeds. Rye uses another method to eliminate competition by producing chemicals, essentially a natural herbicide, that hinder the growth of other species — a process called alleopathy.”

For soil quality improvements, according to the UW-Extension fact sheet: “Cover crops are well known for their ability to improve soil tilth, reduce compaction, and reduce or eliminate surface seal. The crop biodiversity that covers bring leads to soil organism biodiversity. This increased biodiversity has been shown to contribute to a healthy growing environment for production crops.”

“Every field where we planted (rye) is growing fine … they told me it will grow on blacktop if we get enough rain to keep the seeds moist,” Knutson said.

Rye goes dormant over the winter and then continues growing in the spring.