The challenges of this spring are well documented. Record rainfall has caused extraordinary delays in all field operations including the planting of crops, mechanically harvesting forages, and even proper grazing management. Suffice to say, in much of Ohio it's been the worst since at least 1981.

That being said, there is one unique difference between 2011 and the management tools we were working with 30 years ago. In 1981, the Federal Farm Programs offered incentives which encouraged very late planting of corn and soybeans. At the same time, the Federal Crop Insurance programs were not nearly as effective as today's, and were not widely used.

In 2011 we have an option called the "Prevented Planting" provision to many Crop Insurance policies which will be utilized to some degree by a great many Ohio growers. While not necessarily the preferred option, unplanted corn and bean acres allow some unique opportunities for livestock producers.

Farmers with prevented or unplanted acres have several options for these acres including that of planting a forage which might be utilized as feed after November 1. The provisions of Federal Crop Insurance policies allow cover crops to be planted on Prevented Planting acres after July 1, but not grazed or harvested in any fashion before November 1. Contact your Crop Insurance agent for complete details of the provisions of your particular policy.

Based on our experience in Fairfield County with oats planted after wheat harvest each of the past 9 years, if you can utilize a forage for grazing, hay, or silage late this fall, oats appear to be the most productive, highest quality, least cost option available to Ohio livestock producers. In fact, if planted most any time in July or August, there's an opportunity to 'create' on a dry matter basis anywhere from two to five tons of forage while investing little more than the cost of 80-100 pounds of oats and 40 pounds of nitrogen.

Based on experiences with summer planted oats since 2002, Curt Stivison, who initiated this work in Ohio, and I offer these suggestions:

* Optimum planting date for oats from the perspective of yield is not until the first of August. Early August plantings also have resulted in the highest total amount of TDN produced per acre. Later plantings will be slightly higher in quality, but typically not enough to offset the yield advantage of early August planting. While being more conducive to a mechanical harvest in early Fall, planting in early July reduces both yield and quality. The earlier oat plantings also have exhibited more susceptibility to rust.

* Regardless the planting date, or variety, no-tilled seeding rates of from 80 to 100 pounds of oats have consistently resulted in optimum forage yields.

* Optimum nitrogen application rate has been 40 to 50 pounds per acre. This application not only produces the highest yields, but at current values of nitrogen, it's also the most cost effective rate. Higher rates of nitrogen actually appear to depress yields based on our 2008 plot results.

* In our plots, bin run oats originating in Canada have out performed, and provided similar quality at harvest as certified Armor oats.

* The optimum combination of productivity and quality of August planted oats arrives 60 to 75 days after planting. Oats planted in July mature more quickly and thus, rapidly decline in quality beginning 50 to 60 days after planting.

* Oats harvested 50-60 days after planting and while still in the boot stage of maturity may offer some regrowth that may be grazed.

* A weed control application of glyphosate is a necessary and cost effective practice prior to oat planting.

An additional advantage observed when using oats for an annual forage crop is the opportunity to capture the total tonnage produced with a single harvest cutting if grazing is not an option. Used on fields made available as a result of Prevented Planting, only a single harvest after the November 1 deadline will be the most likely management strategy.

As oat harvest options in November are considered, grazing provides the most effective and affordable alternative. In 2002, locally the Wolfingers strip grazed oats all winter and actually began the calving season on them before they ran out in mid March.

Baling oats in the fall has been done around Ohio, but it's a challenge considering that oats only dry about half as fast a grass hay. Cut in November, that typically means at least two weeks or more to cure them. Wet wrapping them is an expensive alternative. Using an in-line bale wrapper/tuber is a little less expensive per ton than individually wrapped bales if the equipment is available locally.

Oats won't die until temperatures have been in the mid 20's for several hours. That means they'll still be green and alive in December most years in Ohio. When they finally freeze, and if it's not a wet winter, growers may be able to let them dry out standing, get a few days of dry frozen weather in January, mow them, rake them and bale them quickly after they've essentially dried and cured standing.

In Canada, growers have sprayed their oats with glyphosate and let them dry out while standing. Then, after a few weeks and at a time when they get a dry week, they mow, rake and bale them all in a day or two. Locally, that's been done once which allowed the oats to be baled in late December and January.

If grazing standing oats after November 1 is not an opportunity, perhaps chopping and ensiling oats is the best alternative for harvest. This offers several advantages over baling or wet wrapping. Obviously the issue of curing the plants for dry harvest becomes a moot point. Chopping and ensiling into either a permanent structure or bags is also likely less expensive than wet wrapping individual bales. Perhaps even better, as detailed by Francis Fluharty a few years ago in this publication, chopped forages are 30% more digestible than long stem forages.

Admittedly chopping and ensiling is likely more expensive than rolling dry hay, but when you consider you get essentially no storage losses, the timeliness of harvest which is afforded, and the more digestible feed which results, it's good alternative. And if you're able to bunk feed the chopped and ensiled oats, there will be no "bale ring" feeding losses to be experienced.

In the coming weeks we'll explore additional opportunities for acres remaining vacant due to Prevented Planting claims caused by the record rainfall that has plagued much of Ohio. Among those alternatives for these acres would be making permanent forage seedings in early August, seeding rape or kale for grazing after November 1, and seeding cereal rye which would provide some high quality feed for grazing in November followed by abundant growth next spring which could be grazed, baled or chopped.. In the mean time, if you've never attended one of our field days to see for yourself the results of summer seeded oats, this web link has photos and data of several of the past years' efforts as we explored the alternatives described above:

 Source: Stan Smith, Ohio State University Extension