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Three Mitchell County farmers, who are using relay cropping, are seeing success with the use of soybeans.

In 2018, farmers Adam Norby, Alec Amundson and Steve Norby decided to run a 10-acre test plot featuring a three crop rotation over a two-year period. Their farm is located southwest of Osage.

“This was kind of my brother-in-law Adam Norby’s idea,” Amundson said. “It’s called relay cropping. Adam heard about it from chatter on the Internet. We also have friends from the Northwood area who are trying it this year.”

The three grew soybeans, in the plot, during the summer of 2018. After the soybeans were harvested, 120 pounds per-acre of cereal rye seed were drilled into the remaining bean stubble. The application of potassium and pot ash fertilizers, which they regularly apply for soybean production, was applied in the fall. The cereal rye took root and wintered well. Forty pounds of nitrogen was applied to the 10-acre test plot on April 20, as the rye began to show green growth.

The soybeans were planted early in the season. “We planted on April 21 and it snowed four or five days later,” Amundson said. “We had left 30-inch spacing for the soybean rows when we drilled the rye. We had two rye rows spaced fifteen inches apart, then a bean row spaced seven-and-a-half inches from the rye.

“We planted the same population and variety of seed, as we use with our regular soybeans, but the rye seed population was about 10 percent less than what we drill in our regular cereal rye field.”

Amundson said when they planted the soybeans, the rye was four to five inches tall and in a vegetative state, which allowed the emerging soybeans to have sunlight. “There was enough soybean growth so you could see the bean rows until the middle of June,” he said. “The rye was about waist high when we harvested it at the end of July. Our yield was down about 10 percent compared to the yield of our regular rye.”

One of the challenges that came with the experiment surfaced during the rye harvest. “A couple of things we will change about rye harvest is we will develop an attachment that will force the rye heads sideways while forcing the growing soybeans down, so we can cut the stubble closer,” Amundson said. “This year we left some of the rye because we didn’t want to cut the soybean tops off.” He also stated a different tire set up might be implemented in the future, to eliminate tracking on the remaining soybeans.

“Compared to our regular soybeans we had minimal imputes. We didn’t use any pre or post herbicides on the field this year, but we did make a fungicide pass in early June when we sprayed the rest of our rye crop,” he said. “Also, a drill is less expensive to operate than a planter.”

Amundson said he is a big believer in having a small grain in a crop rotation. “The rye straw shades the beans and holds the soil moisture,” he said. “Cereal rye adds organic matter to the soil, which helps hold water, and increases water infiltration, which provides more moisture for plants.

“Figuring in the sale of both the cereal rye and soybeans, I think we will do more of this next year.”

This article originally ran on globegazette.com.

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