Strategies outlined for growing late season crops for forage
Provided that the drought now enveloping much of Wisconsin's primary agricultural area has broken by then, farmers who need additional forage to get through the winter feeding season can consider planting one of several crops after Aug. 1, according to Extension Service agronomists Dan Undersander and Shawn Conley.
In an advisory distributed early this week, they indicated that fields from which winter wheat was harvested or from which drought-stricken corn was removed are the top candidates for some small grain or grass crops.
Land on which such vegetable crops as peas and snap beans were grown earlier in the season might also be suitable for a late-season supplemental forage crop.
One possibility, Undersander and Conley point out, is to plant oats with or without field peas (up to 20 pounds per acre) by the first week of August.
They suggest oats rather than other small grains because of the possibility, under relatively good growing conditions, of obtaining yields of 2.5-3 tons of dry matter per acre.
According to Wayne Coblentz, a forage specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forage Research Center at Prairie du Sac, the late-maturing ForagePlus oats is the best choice for such a cropping scenario.
That's because it has advantages over other cultivars in coping with erratic precipitation during the late summer, he explains.
If ForagePlus seed isn't available, the next option is one of the late-maturing oat varieties, Coblentz indicates.
For seeding after the first week of August, he notes that a grain-type of oats would probably fare better than a forage type later in the growing season.
The recommended planting rate for the late season oats is 1.5-2 bushels per acre (with or without peas as a co-crop). A soil test is also advised to determine if enough residual nitrogen remains following the removal of a drought-reduced corn crop. If there's a shortage of nitrogen, an application of 60-70 pounds per acre at planting is suggested.
Being aware of any plant back restrictions due to a herbicide application on the previous crop also needs to be part of the protocol, Undersander and Conley point out. Hold off on planting until the first week of August because earlier planting would likely result in reduced oat yields due to earlier maturity, they indicate.
Under at least average growing conditions, oats planted for fall harvest has higher forage quality than oats planted in the spring, according to University of Wisconsin Extension Service research.
One research project indicated that the summer-sown oats had 10-15 percent less neutral detergent fiber, 18 percent greater fiber digestibility, and 250 percent more water soluble carbohydrates.
A more immediate possibility is sowing a crop of sorghum-sudangrass, sudangrass, or millet because they require daily high temperatures of 80 degrees or higher in order to produce the best growth.
Undersander and Conley note that average high temperatures topping 80 degrees are not likely after Sept. 1.