Fitting annual forages into a crop rotation

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Crop rotations may benefit from high yielding forages that are harvested as silage or hay and marketed to livestock producers. Traditionally producers have focused on a few common crops for forage and silage production, such as corn and alfalfa, and for good reason. Corn grown for silage will produce more energy per acre than any other crop. Alfalfa makes an excellent high quality forage, especially for dairy rations or as a source of protein.

Producers may also consider some other less utilized crops for use as forages that can easily be worked into a “corn-beans-something else” crop rotation. The winter annuals work well as a fall-seeded cover-crop in the Northern Plains. These alternate annual forages may be appropriate for planting in less productive fields that won’t respond well to the higher inputs needed for cash grain crops. Should unfavorable weather restrict the growing season these forages can also work well as an emergency or rescue crop.

It is important to note that as these alternate annual forages mature their nutritional value decreases, therefore it is important that producers plan planting and harvest times for when plants should be at their optimum for nutritional value. For example, many small grain forages, when harvested in the pre-boot stage, have about 20 percent crude protein, 40 percent neutral detergent fiber (NDF), 30 percent acid detergent fiber (ADF), and around 80 percent in vitro digestibility. Those values are similar to corn silage but with a higher crude protein content. Total dry matter yields for alternate annual grains are higher than 2.5 tons/acre which is lower than expected from corn silage. However, if planned and timed right these crops can work well as a second crop, or can be a valid alternative for a long-term crop rotation plan.

Table 1: Characteristics of potential warm season annual grasses.

Species

Characteristics

Foxtail millets
(German, Siberian, and Hungarian)

  1. Grown for hay crop.
  2. Siberian millet is the most drought tolerant and has finer stems.
  3. Little or no regrowth after being cut .
  4. Not suitable for grazing .
  5. Does not cause prussic acid poisoning.

Pearl Millet

  1. Can provide higher tonnage silage than corn or grain sorghum.
  2. Has good nutritive value.
  3. Will regrowth after harvesting due to tiller growth after defoliation.

Sudangrass

  1. Used for hay, silage, or pasture.
  2. Can withstand prolonged dry periods but is not as drought tolerant as foxtail millets.

Sorghum-sudangrass hybrids

  1. High forage yield.
  2. Less palatable when compared to Sudangrass.
  3. Suited for green chop and silage.

 

Table 2. Suggested Planting Dates, Seeding Rates, and Harvesting Times for Annual Forages.

Winter Annuals

 

Planting Date

Seeding Rate

Pasture

Hay

Silage

Wheat

Sept-Oct 10

1.0 bu/A

Up to jointing

Boot-Milk

Soft dough

Triticale

Sept 1-10

2.0 bu/A

Up to jointing

Boot stage

Boot stage

Rye

Sept 1-10

1.5 bu/A

Up to jointing

Pre-boot

Soft dough

Pea

Sept-Oct 10

Depends on seed size

n/a

25-50% podding

Blossom stage

Spring Annuals

 

Planting Date

Seeding Rate

Pasture

Hay

Silage

Wheat

April 1-30

 

Vegetative

Soft dough

Soft dough

Barley

April 10-30

 

Vegetative

Soft dough

Soft dough

Oats

April 1-30

 

n/a

Boot-early heading

Soft dough

 

By taking advantage of the varying conditions which these alternate annual forages prefer, a producer can very easily diversify their crop production portfolio which can lead to additional income streams while contributing to the overall health of their farmland.



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