A number of livestock producers have been asking about making late plantings of winter annuals for forage. I recently updated an older factsheet that I wrote in 2007 with Dr. Don Ball, now Professor Emeritus at Auburn University. This factsheet, entitled Late Plantings of Winter Annual Forages, provides more details on what one should consider when thinking about a late planting of winter annuals. Here’s a summary of the most pertinent parts for consideration:
Planting winter annuals late should be considered VERY RISKY and every consideration to alternatively feeding low-price commodities and by-products (corn gluten, soy hulls, wheat mids, etc.) should be evaluated from an economic standpoint. When making a late planting of winter annuals, it is important to remember that one should consider not only the cost of seed, but also fertilizer, fuel, labor, and other costs, as well as the risk involved. If planting in late fall and early winter, focus on planting annual ryegrass. Annual ryegrass is fairly cold tolerant in the Deep South, and ryegrass seed is relatively inexpensive. Still, if a producer is going to try ryegrass in a planting in late fall or early winter, it makes sense to plant a variety known to have the potential to make early growth. Regardless, one should remember that the late planted crop is at significant risk of winter injury and the grass plants will not have a chance to reach their tillering potential. Certainly, productivity of these forages will be greatly reduced from normal expected yields. It is impossible to predict how much yield reduction will occur, but a good manager that receives favorable weather MAY produce 2000-4000 lbs of dry matter per acre if planting in late fall or early winter with a good ryegrass variety.
Rain this week did us some good. But it did not end this drought. We are by no means “out of the woods.” This may be your best shot at getting decent winter annual forage growth started, but you should count the costs. If you can afford to take the risk and it is your best option, go for it. But, if you are literally betting the farm on a late winter planting, don’t. The risk is too great! A more expensive alternative that has less risk would be a far better choice.