A wide range of forage crops could help grain and livestock producers salvage some value from their fields once the drought-ravaged corn crop has been harvested - if soil moisture returns to a level that can support plant growth.
While damaged corn can be used as forage to feed livestock, it won’t be enough to thwart forage shortages. Several forage crops are available for Indiana growers to plant in late summer or early fall and that could serve as livestock feed in the spring.
“For the August seeding, an excellent consideration would be spring oat that will be harvested by machine, or a combination of spring oat and forage turnip if grazed by livestock,” said Keith Johnson, Purdue Extension forage specialist. “Spring oat will not survive the winter.
“While the expectation is for turnips to winterkill, too, it has been observed that they can survive a mild Indiana winter.”
Another possible choice is annual ryegrass, but growers who go this route need to pay close attention to keep the crop from becoming a nuisance. Johnson recommended an early seeding to have both fall and spring harvests.
Some small grains also could be options.
“Carefully selected varieties of soft red winter wheat, winter cereal rye and winter triticale are adapted across the state of Indiana,” Johnson said. “These crops can be lightly grazed in the fall if weather conditions favor growth, and there is an expectation to produce more abundant forage the following spring.”
While some farmers might be tempted to select a winter barley, Johnson said it’s not as winter-hardy as some of the other small grains.
A major factor in selecting a forage crop to follow corn is the type of herbicides used on the cornfield. Herbicides are labeled with restrictions because some residuals can damage a forage crop seeding.
Most herbicide labels do not specifically list the species that are used for cover crops or fall forages, so these species often fall under the “other crops” listed section at the maximum restriction period, said Travis Legleiter, Purdue Extension weed scientist.
“These restrictions are meant to protect the rotation crop, end consumer and livestock consuming the harvested crop,” he said.
More information about herbicide restrictions is available in Purdue Extension’s free publication, “Cover Crops and the Corn and Soybean Herbicide Rotational Restrictions,” available at http://www.btny.purdue.edu/WeedScience/2011/CoverCrops11.pdf
Purdue Extension’s “Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide” also can help farmers decide which crops would be most appropriate.
If the crops are used as forage, and not just to provide cover, Johnson suggests seeding at the earlier time frames noted in the publication.
The guide can be purchased at http://www.the-education-store.com or by calling (888) EXT-INFO (398-4636) and asking for The Education Store.