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Suggestions offered for establishing emergency crops

June 27, 2013 | 0 comments

Farmers face challenges most years and they are constantly searching for ways to over-come those challenges.

Last year's drought found livestock producers and dairy farmers struggling to figure out how to find feed for their animals. A dry September, however, made it difficult to even establish an emergency forage.

Now these farmers are facing similar challenges, trying to decide what, if anything, to plant on the land that is too wet and figuring out what to do with alfalfa fields that have significant loss.

It isn't only the wet weather that caused problems. Going into spring already many farms had significant winterkill in their alfalfa fields.

During the Dodge-Fond du lac County Forage Council twilight meeting at Abel Dairy in Eden Wednesday night (June 19), Mike Rankin, UW-Extension crops and soils agent in Fond du lac County, offered some suggestions for establishing emergency crops.

He said dairy producers this spring needed to decide what to do about their damaged alfalfa fields.

Those fields that had good stands in some areas and bare spots in others did some emergency repair by interseeding grasses that would grow quickly and extend the forage this year. It is not a permanent fix but it saves the field for this year.

If a field had too much alfalfa kill the better option was to kill it off and plant corn into it, taking advantage of the nitrogen available through the alfalfa that survived the winter.

As the summer moves on, however, there are still many fields that have not been planted at all because they are too wet.

One option is to put in a forage sorghum but Rankin says if the summer is cool, this crop won't do well because it is actually a warm-season grass.

Another option is to put in a spring cereal grain. While this choice did not work last year, Rankin says, "Don't base your decision on your experience of 2012 because last year it was unusually dry in September. Normally this works."

Regarding corn planting in late June or early July he said, "If you're doing corn, try to hit one of the peak quality times."

He explained that corn that is raised for corn silage has two times in the growing cycle when feed quality (starch content and digestibility) is near the same.

Quality as a forage drops in the time period when the stalk is forming silk and putting energy into grain kernels.

So as farmers look at changing the maturity of corn to plant as the season gets later, he says shorter maturity corn will be fine for corn that is raised for grain but if the goal is to harvest it at silage, switch back to a later maturity corn.

"If your goal is to produce forage, you want to either put up the feed when the corn kernel has reached milk line or just before it puts out the grain but not in between," he says.

He points out, "All is not lost. If you plant a late maturity corn it will grow fast and fill out, providing a lot of forage. If you harvest it before silking the milk produced per ton of feed will not be quite as good as normal corn silage but it will be better than if it has only a partially formed kernel."

Mike Stanek, Dodge County UW-Extension crops and soils agent, said, "I've had at least 40 calls this spring from farmers wanting advice on what to do with fields that are too wet to plant or alfalfa fields that have killed out spots."

Stanek says this year is an ideal time to consider cover crops. He says, "Planting anything at all on them is better than just letting them stand fallow. If nothing is planted, weeds will grow and they are at risk for soil erosion."

He said there are many benefits to cover crops.

Many farmers, like the Abels who hosted the Forage Council event, establish winter rye or winter triticale and harvest it in spring as a feed. They can then establish another crop such as corn silage, in the harvested field.

Even planting something like oats on the fields that are too wet to plant corn or soybeans will benefit the field. He said, "The problem with establishing a small grain crop is locating the seed."

Stanek has been involved with a research effort on a Clyman farm owned by Jeff Kreutziger to determine the advantages and disadvantages of various cover crops.

The triple-replicated project is currently underway with plans to host a field day later in the fall to review the results of the effort.

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