Saving a rye cover crop for forage or grain

All farmers are looking at ways to decrease cost and have a chance of turning a profit in 2020. One avenue being explored by many farmers is harvesting a rye cover crop for forage or grain. This may be a viable option, but several considerations need to be followed.

Be sure your herbicide program crop rotation interval (the required time between herbicide application and planting another crop) is meant for rye. If a producer does not intend to harvest the cover crop, the rotation interval requirement is not a legal requirement, but if the producer plans on harvesting the cover crop all label restrictions must be followed.

Be sure you have a market. Always have a livestock feeding option in case the grain does not meet grade for seed. Rye may be used to meet some of the current feed shortages many farmers are dealing with. The rye grain market is not a large market, but there may be some opportunities. Food grade rye markets are pretty restrictive due to quality parameters. Some possible grain markets include; flour, livestock feed, cover crop seed or straw.

Each of these markets have their own requirements. Flour must meet individual market standards (protein, bushel weight, percent ergot, presence of smut, DON, etc.) Check with your local markets before making your decision. You may be able to secure a contract for fall delivery.

Rye forage can be fed successfully to cattle. Forage amounts depend on the class of cattle that you are feeding. Rye forage fed to dairy cows is normally limited to about 30 percent because of the high fiber content, see the following article: and seek advice from your nutritionist. A 50/50 mixture of rye to corn silage has been successful in feeding dairy heifers.

Grain levels generally are limited to 25 percent of the grain ration for dairy, 20 percent of concentrate for beef or up to 2.2 lb/hd/day in finishing rations and 15 percent of the grain ration for hogs because of feed refusal above these levels. It is not recommended to feed rye grain to poultry.

Cover crop seed can be sold but you must follow the legal requirements of the seed you purchased originally. VSN (variety not stated) seed can vary widely by yield and quality but can be resold without any restrictions. Some hybrid varieties cannot be saved for seed even for your own farm. Penalties for saving seed from these varieties can be very severe. Farmers that are receiving cost share for cover crops, must have the seed tested for germination, etc. at a certified seed testing lab (WI Crop Improvement Association).

Treat it like a cash crop, not a cover crop. Plan on adding additional nutrients for forage or grain production, follow guidelines for leaf diseases and scab, and you may need a herbicide application as a rye cover crop is generally not seeded at the same rate as a rye grain crop. Leaf disease treatments are not always needed, so scout when close to flag leaf emergence to determine if needed. You will likely need a fungicide treatment at anthesis for reduction of scab (Fusarium Head Blight), and application timing is critical. Find all pest management recommendations at the following link There are NO fungicide treatments effective on ergot. For ergot management see the following publication:

Look at your budget. It may seem like saving the rye for harvest is your best option, but do the numbers, use your costs and projected income, for all the reasons stated above.

Other implications:

If you received cost share for cover crops from NRCS, you can harvest for forage, but not for grain. Contact your local NRCS office if there are exceptions.

Need to report the change to FSA.

Check with your crop insurance company. If the rye has started to head or bud before forage harvest, or you harvest the rye for grain, if you plant another spring seeded crop following harvest, it will not be eligible for crop insurance. Summer/fall-seeded crops, like establish alfalfa or winter wheat, can be insured.