The end of this week signals the official start of “summer” in Wisconsin, leaving many farmers wondering what happened to spring. The weather just hasn’t cooperated with planting this year, not to mention first-crop hay. The handwriting is already on the wall: Feed will be tight this coming winter. Emergency forage is the name of the game.
Nick Schneider, Winnebago County ag agent, says double-crop forages after winter wheat is one option. A wide range of forage crops can potentially be planted after small-grain harvest, including brassicas, small grains, ryegrass, legumes, sorghums and millets. Corn silage is even a possibility. Depending on the crop – and the weather – yields vary from a half-ton of dry matter per ace to four tons of DM or more.
Iowa State University forage agronomist Stephen Barnhart has some additional suggestions.
Schneider says the “most well understood” double-crop forage option is planting fall oats around Aug. 1. Variety matters. Schneider cites University of Wisconsin research showing Forage Plus oats (or a similar variety) a good fit for yield and quality reasons, because it shouldn’t develop into the boot stage as quickly as other varieties, allowing time to work around corn and soybean harvests. Earlier-maturing varieties can yield well, he says, but forage quality may decrease as heading is reached. However, if fall planting is delayed (and who knows, considering what’s happened with spring planting), then earlier-maturing varieties should be considered. (Adding in some peas, too, can hike protein 3 to 5 percent.)
Grazing operations might want to dabble in forage brassicas this year, like forage radish, turnip, kale or swedes. Schneider says they’re fast-growing and have high quality. Recommended planting dates range from mid-July to late August. The timing of brassicas aligns well after winter wheat comes off. However, beware of bloat or nitrate poisoning when grazing brassicas. Avoid an abrupt change from poorer-quality pasture to brassicas, and it’s probably also a good idea to supplement dry hay.
Warm-season grasses like sorghum, sudangrass, sorghum sudangrass, millets and corn silage are “riskier” double-crop forages, but many farmers are already running out of options. If forage quality is high priority, going with brown mid-rib (BMR) varieties is advised. Such options have the greatest chance of success when winter wheat or some other small grain is harvested early – and temperatures are above-average. Dry soil midsummer may be a deterrent turn out to be a deterrent to planting these crops, and delaying planting past mid-July (and/or cool temperatures) will “significantly hinder” yield of these crops, according to Schneider.
Schneider says corn silage can be double-cropped after small grain harvest, too. UW research at the Arlington Ag Research Station reveals yields of 3.8 to 5.3 tons of DM per acre of low-starch silage when corn was planted Jul 15. A full-season (108-day) hybrid planted July 15 yielded 5.3 tons of DM at 9.4 percent crude protein, 61 percent Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF), 63 percent NDFD and 8 percent starch. Planted Aug. 1, the same hybrid yielded 2.1 tons of DM per acre at 11.1 percent CP, 64 percent NDF, 72 percent NDFD and 1 percent starch.
A shorter-season 94-day hybrid planted July 15 at Arlington yielded 4.7 tons of DM at 9.5 percent CP, 60 percent NDF, 63 percent NDFD and 8 percent starch. This same hybrid planted Aug. 1 yielded 1.9 tons of DM at 11.3 percent CP, 63 percent DF, 72 percent NDFD and 1 percent starch.
A BMR hybrid planted July 15 yielded 2.8 tons of DM at 9 percent CP, 62 percent NDF, 73 percent NDFD and 3 percent starch. Planted Aug. 1, the BMR corn yielded 1.4 tons of DM at 10.6 percent CP, 65 percent NDF, 79 percent NDFD but not starch.
Schneider cautions producers to consult a nutritionist if you’re looking at unfamiliar forages. Fall-grown forages, he says, have different quality characteristics from spring-planted equivalents. As noted above, the starch in late-planted corn silage is low to non-existent due to undeveloped ears at harvest, and sorghums, sudangrass and millets have feed characteristics “less ideal for milking dairy cows,” this ag agent notes.
Further, he cautions that should harvest be delayed, frost, lack of field drying or even mud can be problems. Producers might also want to access a bagger or bale wrapper in order to segregate these alternative forages, allowing for better use in the ration. Importantly, they also need to look at the field’s herbicide history to prevent herbicide injury and/or feed residue issues. Some double-crop forage species aren’t usually found on herbicide labels; thus a grower may need to follow the longest rotation interval provided.
Accessing the seed you want (especially this year) can also be a challenge. Source it early, but be aware that variability in summer weather may change your planting plans.
Stephen Barnhart, Iowa State University forage agronomist, offers a few other options. He says cereal or grain rye, winter wheat and winter triticale (a cross of wheat and rye) can be planted late summer or fall for fall grazing, or they can be overwintered and harvested or used for grazing early spring 2014. Winter rye, ready next spring, is apt to yield 3 to 3.5 tons of DM per acre at 85 to 90 RFV (100 equals about the digestibility and feed energy value of full-bloom alfalfa).
Barnhart says forage rape and forage turnips are brassicas (members of the “mustard family”). They’re annual cool-season crops for grazing that can be planted late summer for fall grazing. They’re usable in about 45 days. Barnhart says forage rape and “tyfon” (a leafy top-growth, mustard-type crop similar to forage rap) should be grazed rotationally. Forage (i.e. bulb) turnips should be strip grazed for most efficient use. Barnhart adds that forage brassicas require nitrogen for decent production. While they’ve mostly been used by sheep producers, beef producers and even dairy farmers may want to give them a try this year. Forage rape and turnip tops planted at the end of June into July will likely be ready in September. They’ll yield 2 to 3 tons of DM per acre and 20 to 25 percent CP (150 to 250 RFV). The roots can be grazed in October for an added half-ton of DM, but CP will be more like 16 to 20 percent. These are seeded at 3 to 6 pounds per acre.
Annual ryegrass emergences really fast; it also grows quickly. It has high quality, but doesn’t overwinter in the Upper Midwest. If allowed to mature, it can “volunteer” in subsequent seasons; in fact, it’s become an annual grassy weed in small grains in some portions of the country, according to Barnhart.
Warm-season annual grasses – sorghums and millets – can be planted through early July to be used for a couple months’ grazing summer and fall. Most are ready to harvest or graze about 50 days from the time they emerge.
Barnhart says the “most suitable” for an alternative hay crop is foxtail millet, which only produces one crop. Sudangrass and Japanese millet, he warns, have larger, coarser stems that make them tougher to harvest successfully as dry hay. They are, though, better suited for multiple silage harvests. A mix of sudangrass and foxtail millet seeded July 1 might be ready mid-August, yielding 4 to 6 tons of DM per acre, 11 to 13 percent CP and 90 to 100 RFV.
This ISU forage expert highlights hybrid sorghum/sudangrass and hybrid pearl millet as multi-cut warm-season annuals that can be used for green chop, pasture (again, rotationally grazing them is recommended for optimum efficiency) or silage. These can be planted through early July. First growth will likely be usable in 50 days and they’ll regrow from tillers. Barnhart warns that prussic acid poisoning is a risk for hybrid sorghum/sudangrass if plants or tillers are cut or grazed at a short height (i.e. less than 24 inches) or if the summer turns really dry.
Hybrid pearl millet grows somewhat slower than sorghum/sudan hybrids, and it may grow “poorly” if the summer is exceptionally cool. Millets have no prussic acid poisoning risk though.
Forage sorghum is a tall, one-cut, warm-season annual best used as green-chop or stored as silage, as prussic acid poisoning is also a risk if plants or tillers are cut org grazed short (less than 30 inches) or if the crop is severely short on soil moisture.
Grain sorghum and soybean mixtures can be planted through early summer for silage. They’re harvestable in about 60 days, but require good fertilization for production. Base harvest on the sorghum component, Barnhart advises. Harvested in September, this mix might yield 6 to 7 tons of DM per acre, coming in at 11 to 12 percent CP and 95 to 110 RFV. Add 3/4 to 1 1/4 bushels of soybeans per acre to 10 to 15 pounds per acre of sorghum.
Barnharrt says Teff can also be an emergency summer grass hay crop. This warm-season annual grass grows “reasonably well” in some portions of the Midwest. It establishes quickly and can be harvested in 45 to 50 days, with multiple harvests possible. Seed may be limited though as it’s still relatively new.