> A Pennsylvania farmer has asked me about the use of spring-seeded
> wheat as a cover crop for corn (and for soybeans as a secondary interest).
> He'd like to speak with a farmer or educator who has tried this or seen how
> it works. Any suggestions?
> He is organic, so also needs information on killing/suppressing the wheat
> without herbicides.
> The idea is that spring-planted winter wheat will not vernalize, therefore
> will not head. Stuck in the vegetative stage, it will (allegedly) die out
> either on its own, or with some *help*. When will it senesce in eastern PA,
> and will it compete for moisture (primary concern) before that time?
Here's some text compiled by ATTRA:
"A dying mulch is a cover crop planted out of season which puts on
some growth_suppressing weeds as a living mulch_ then dies back out
on its own without requiring the use of herbicides, mowing, or
tillage. Winter rye_planted in the spring_has been used successfully
in this manner in several agronomic and horticultural crops.
In asparagus here's how this might work. Following post-harvest
tillage of the asparagus field, the field is over-seeded with winter
rye at 120 lbs per acre to establish the living mulch. Since the
winter rye is planted in late spring, and consequently does not
receive normal winter vernalization (cold treatment), it never tillers
(i.e., it stays short) and eventually "cooks out" by mid-summer. By
this time, the asparagus ferns form a thick canopy which shade out
most underlying weeds.
The success of this system is dependent on proper timing and good
luck. Timing is critical to get the rye established early enough to
promote germination when the soil temperatures are still relatively
cool, but at the same time, late enough that a cold spell is avoided.
Vernalization can occur when the rye is exposed to only 10 days of 45
F. night temperatures.
Dr. Astrid Newenhouse, University of Wisconsin, conducted cover crop
research in horticultural crops and provided some preliminary
insights into dying mulch and living mulch systems for asparagus. Dr.
Newenhouse tried the non-vernalized rye system as described above.
She agreed that timing was critical with respect to a cool spell. She
said they tried the non-vernalized rye system, but also got a cold
snap one year. As a result, the rye headed out and created additional
management problems. Their experience with a non-vernalized rye
underscores the fact that biological farming strategies are some
times subject to the vagaries of weather and don't always
work as expected."
For the farmer leaning towards a demonstration trial on
spring-planted winter wheat or winter rye as a dying mulch, this
extra bit of insight from Astrid Newenhouse regarding a cold snap
in late spring and how that switches on the fruiting mechanism in
winter rye or winter wheat is noteworthy.
Will it work in Pennsylvania? The biological farmer often times
walks the unknown path. This is what the surveys say on "barriers
to adoption of sustainable agriculture practices," isn't it?
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