Ryegrass and clover partner for benefits

Crimson clover

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

They aren't synonymous with salt and pepper, but apparently annual ryegrass and crimson clover are combining to provide good benefits to Midwest corn and soybean growers.

And if the Midwest overseeding market increases as expected, the combination could provide Oregon growers with an opportunity to dramatically increase crimson clover acreage in coming years.

Already Midwest growers are purchasing upwards of 10 million pounds a year of annual ryegrass seed. Add to the mix a 20 to 40 percent blend of crimson clover seed, and Midwest sales easily could displace a sizable percentage of the state's 4 million- to 6 million-pound annual production of crimson clover seed, said Bryan Ostlund, administrator of the Oregon Ryegrass Growers Seed Commission.

That leaves open the door for imports or additional Oregon production to meet the increased demand, said John McCulley, administrator of the Oregon Clover Seed Commission.

With the Midwest cover crop market expected to top 30 million pounds in the next five years, the demand for more crimson seed could be substantial.

Interest in crimson clover was sparked two years ago when Midwest researchers discovered the crop added benefits to annual ryegrass.

"It brings nitrogen to the table," Ostlund said.

When used as a cover crop, annual ryegrass is shown to expand root passage for corn and soybeans, increase water infiltration, boost soil organic matter, stabilize soil and suppress soybean cyst nematodes. Add the nitrogen-fixing capacity of clover to the mix, and the allure of the cover crop could be even greater, Ostlund said.

Preliminary research also is showing that crimson clover could help annual ryegrass survive the Midwest's cold winters.

When combined, Ostlund said, the two crops provide benefits that are greater than the sum of their parts.

"Give us a couple of years of looking at the winter survivability, and there could be a ready market back there for crimson clover," Ostlund said.

Crimson, one of four clovers produced at any capacity in Oregon, makes up about half Oregon's annual production of clover seed.

Grown primarily in Washington and Yamhill counties, it is used as a forage crop and a cover crop. It makes up between one-third and one-half the 12 million pounds of clover seed produced annually in Oregon.

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