Italian Ryegrass as a Companion Crop and Cover Crop

Challenges associated with establishment-year grass/legume seedings include low forage yield, high weed yield, and soil erosion. To address these problems, farmers sometimes include a more rapidly-establishing ‘companion’ crop in the seeding mixture. Common species include oats, peas, barley, spring triticale, or some combination thereof. While these species can work very well, the seed is relatively expensive and is best planted through the large grain box of a drill. Italian ryegrass (IRG) is increasingly being used as a companion crop because it can produce higher yields of forage with quality superior to that of oats, the seed is much less expensive, seeding rates are low, and it can easily be metered through the small-seed box with perennial grasses and legumes. Its dense, fibrous root system is also well-suited for soil stabilization and improving soil quality. Another characteristic of IRG is that it establishes much more rapidly than most forage species. Virginia Tech researchers demonstrated that IRG accumulated three times more dry matter than alfalfa and nearly five times more dry-matter than orchardgrass in the first 30 days. At 51 days, IRG had accumulated 5.6 and 5.3 times more DM than alfalfa and orchardgrass, respectively.   Depending on the circumstances and management, this chara

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