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  • Last modified 92 days ago (May 17, 2017)

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Staff writer

People living west and north of Lincolnville may have noticed fields of tall, thick plants that were lush and dark green, then turned brown after being sprayed.

Those fields were planted into rye grass by Shane Svitak and his father and Svitak thinks it is improving the porousness of the soil.

Svitak started the practice of using rye as a ground cover about five years ago. About 1,000 acres were planted to rye last fall.

Rye grass is sown like wheat in the fall, goes dormant in winter, and re-grows in spring. It grows quickly with moisture and puts down deep roots, some as deep as two feet.

After the rye is killed in the spring with a chemical, the dry foliage covers the ground like straw, and spaces left by the roots allow the soil to take in moisture.

Fields are then planted to corn or soybeans.

Svitak said the large root structure of rye adds organic matter to the soil and controls soil erosion.

“With this wet spring,” he said, “our ground that did not have rye on it had soil erosion, but our rye ground had no soil erosion.”

Like straw in a garden, the dry rye grass conserves moisture and keeps the ground cool during hot summer days.

‘”It keeps the soil microbes working,” Svitak said.

The Svitaks also plant some fields with a mixture of rye and other seeds such as oats, turnips, and radishes for winter grazing for their 100-head cowherd.

One 40-acre field of rye was not killed. It will mature and be harvested for seed with a combine.

By the time corn and soybeans are harvested, the rye straw will be decomposed. Fields will be rotated to wheat or replanted to rye.

“There is always something growing on our land,” Svitak said. “When one crop comes off, another goes in. The rye works great. It definitely is raising organic matter in the soil and is helping prevent soil erosion.”

A crop fit to kill

Rye ground cover improves soil for corn

Last modified May 17, 2017

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