402.477.2323 info@ocia.org

Winter rye is prized for its versatility. It is a source of grain and also a forage and ground cover that protects the soil from erosion by wind and rain. But the benefits of winter rye don’t stop there.

A series of studies, begun in 2015, by a team of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and university collaborators suggest that establishing a cover crop of winter rye between rotations of corn and soybean can reduce nitrate losses, sequester carbon, and provide a source of renewable natural gas.

Robert Malone, an agricultural engineer with the ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa, is coordinating the studies to evaluate rye’s potential role in the “sustainable intensification of agriculture”—an approach deemed critical to meeting growing world demand for food, feed, fiber, and fuel without overtaxing what the land and natural resources can provide.

In the latest studies, the team used a field-scale computer model to simulate rotations of corn and soybean, with or without winter rye cover crops, at 40 sites across the North Central United States, including parts of the Mississippi River Basin, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Among results recently published in the journal of Environmental Research Letters:

      • Establishing a winter rye cover crop between corn-soybean rotations in tile-drained fields (meaning, those using a system of underground drainage pipes to remove excess water) reduced nitrate levels in drainage water by more than 45 percent compared to rye-free fields—or about 21 and 44 kilograms per hectare, respectively. 
      • Across the 63-total million hectares (approximately 156 million acres) of North Central farmland that the model’s simulations encompassed, use of a winter rye cover crops on tile-drained fields translated to a 27 percent reduction in nitrate loads entering the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River basin.

Nitrate poses an environmental concern when it goes unused by crop plants and escapes into streams, river, lakes and other bodies of surface water, compromising water quality and helping fuel algal blooms.  The subsequent death and decay of the algae in these blooms consumes oxygen, killing or driving off fish and other aquatic life.

In coastal waters like the Gulf of Mexico, this condition is known as hypoxia, and it creates a “dead zone” spanning several thousand square miles, a size that can exact a costly toll on commercial fisheries and other associated industries. This summer, for example, the Gulf’s dead zone is forecasted to cover 4,155 square miles.

“A variety of factors—including the effects of excess nutrients and water-body stratification (layering) due to saline or temperature gradients—can create hypoxic conditions. In North America, the size of the hypoxic area in the Gulf of Mexico correlates strongly with spring nitrate-nitrogen loads from the Mississippi River,” explained Malone, who collaborates on the modelling studies with 15 other researchers from three ARS laboratories and four universities.

Climate-change may increase the likelihood of hypoxic conditions in the Gulf of Mexico, lending urgency to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency task force efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous loads from the Mississippi River basin by 45 percent by 2035. 

“The use of cover crops such as winter rye in corn-soybean rotations in the North-Central U.S. is one of the most promising conservation strategies for reducing nitrate loads to streams and rivers that discharge into the Mississippi River,” according to Malone. 

In addition to curbing nitrate losses, winter rye cover crops may also have a role to play in capturing (or, “sequestering”) carbon.

According to the model’s simulations, establishing winter rye cover crops in corn-soybean rotations across the North Central U.S. could produce more than 18 million metric tonnes (19.8 million tons) of field residue, called “biomass.” That rye residue, in turn, has potential to yield 210 million megajoules of energy annually—the equivalent energy content of 2.3 billion gallons of ethanol—were it to be converted into bio-methane gas using anaerobic digesters.

The simulations also indicate that in the bio-methane production process, a standard filtration step called “upgrading” could enable the removal and capture 7.5 million tonnes (8.3 million tons) annually of carbon dioxide, preventing its release back into the atmosphere when the biogas is burned for power or heat and creating a carbon sequestration benefit for farmers.  

The researchers don’t view winter rye cover crops as a proverbial “magic bullet” for managing nitrogen and improving the environment, however. Rather, it’s likely to be integrated with other measures, including the use of saturated riparian buffers, controlled drainage, wetlands and bioreactors.

“Combined conservation practices such as winter rye cover crops and edge-of-field practices like using the saturated buffers are sometimes called ‘stacked practices,’ and they may reduce nitrogen loss more than when each practice is used individually,” said Malone.

Along with colleagues in Ames, Malone co-authored the Environmental Research Letters paper together with scientists from the ARS Soil and Water Management Research Unit, the ARS Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center, Pennsylvania State University, Iowa State University, McGill University and Purdue University.

Originally published by the Agricultural Research Service on August 10, 2023. 

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in U.S. agricultural research results in $20 of economic impact.

Contact: Jan Suszkiw
Email: Jan.Suszkiw@usda.gov

Learn more about the benefits of healthy soil, organic certification, and OCIA International.

  • Healthy Soil: Cultivating healthy soil requires establishing ecological balance and increasing biological diversity. But how can you establish healthy soil on your farm?
  • Certification Process: What does the organic certification process ential? At OCIA, we are committed to making the process as seamless as possible. 
  • Why Certify with OCIA?: Choosing an organic certification agency is one of the most important points in an operator’s certification process. Let us tell you why OCIA is the right choice for you.

This Form Has Already Been Submitted!

Please go to Account > Edit Forms to edit this form. Thank you.

You haven't submit Certification Application

Please go to Account > Certification Application to submit form. Thanks

No has enviado Solicitud de Certificación

Por favor navegue a Account > Solicitud de Certificación para enviar el formulario. Gracias

You haven't logged in.

Please login to access this page. Thanks

No has iniciado sesión.

Inicia sesión para acceder a esta página. Gracias


Thank you for submitting your organic certification application! OCIA looks forward to working with you.

For applicants who are new or currently under suspension, please see the end of the page for some important notes.

An estimate for your 2023 certification and inspection fees was sent with the login information. Please promptly send payment to the address on the invoice. If you are a new applicant, OCIA will not review your file until payment is received.

If you are submitting hardcopies of any supporting documents, please mail them to the address on the invoice. Failure to submit required supporting documents may lead to delays in the review.

Once a complete file is received, OCIA will complete a pre-inspection review. During this process, OCIA will contact you if additional information is needed. Please respond to any communication from OCIA in a timely manner.

Please contact OCIA International if you have any questions.

New applicants: Please be reminded that as a new applicant, your operation currently cannot label or sell product as organic. If organic certification is granted, an organic certificate will be issued and product can then be sold as organic.

For farm operations, the inspector must see your crop in the field, so check-strips must be left in all fields requested for certification if any harvest occurs prior to inspection. For hay fields, any hay harvested prior to inspection cannot be certified as organic.

For suspended operations: Please be aware that no product can be sold as “organic” while suspended and previous product is no longer “organic.” For farm operations, any crops currently in storage are no longer organic and must be sold conventionally. Only crops harvested after reinstatement, if it is granted, may be sold as “organic.” Any crops harvested from fields prior to reinstatement must be sold conventionally.

Close Window


¡Gracias por enviar su solicitud de certificación orgánica! OCIA espera trabajar con usted. Para los solicitantes que son nuevos o están actualmente suspendidos, consulte el final de la página para conocer información importante.

Se le envió un estimado de los honorarios de certificación e inspección 2023 con la información de inicio de sesión. Envíe puntualmente el pago a la dirección que figura en la factura. Si usted es un nuevo solicitante, OCIA no revisará su expediente hasta que se reciba el pago.

Si envía copias impresas de cualquier documento de respaldo, envíelas por correo a la dirección que figura en la factura. Se podrá producir demoras en la revisión si no se envían los documentos de respaldo necesarios,.

Una vez que se recibe un expediente completo, OCIA llevará a cabo una revisión de preinspección. Durante este proceso, OCIA se comunicará con usted si necesita información adicional. Responda a cualquier comunicación de OCIA de manera oportuna.

Póngase en contacto con OCIA International si tiene alguna pregunta.

Para los solicitantes nuevos: recuerde que, como solicitante nuevo, su operación actualmente no puede etiquetar o vender productos como orgánicos. Si se otorga la certificación orgánica, se emitirá un certificado orgánico y el producto se podrá vender como orgánico.

Para las operaciones agrícolas, el inspector debe ver su cultivo en el campo, por lo que si se produce alguna cosecha antes de la inspección, se deben dejar franjas o surcos de verificación en todos los campos solicitados para la certificación. Para los campos de heno, cualquier heno cosechado antes de la inspección no puede certificarse como orgánico.

Para operaciones suspendidas: tenga en cuenta que ningún producto puede venderse como "orgánico" mientras está suspendido y que el producto anterior ya no es "orgánico". Para las operaciones agrícolas, cualquier cultivo actualmente almacenado ya no es orgánico y debe venderse de manera convencional. Solo los cultivos cosechados después del restablecimiento, si se otorga, pueden venderse como "orgánicos". Cualquier cultivo cosechado de los campos antes de la reinstalación debe venderse de manera convencional ".

Cerrar Ventana

Submission Successful

Thank you for submitting your organic certification application! OCIA looks forward to working with you.

Close Window

Envío exitoso

¡Gracias por enviar su solicitud de certificación orgánica! OCIA espera trabajar con usted.

Cerrar Ventana

Confirm Renewal Submission

Please make sure to save all your previous year entries for your records before proceeding. By clicking “Yes, I would like to Proceed”, some entries will be reset for renewal submission.

Yes, I would like to Proceed Close Window

Confirmar envío de renovación

Asegúrese de guardar todas las entradas del año previo para sus registros antes de continuar. Al hacer clic en "Sí, me gustaría continuar", algunas entradas se restablecerán para el envío de su renovación.

Sí, me gustaría continuar Close Window

Please update Certification Application

Please make sure to update your Certfication Application before proceeding with the renewal updates.

Update now