Farmer forage options for 2019

Richard Halopka
Clark County Extension agent
Alfalfa stands in this field east of Fond du Lac emerged unscathed from any winter damage, however, others were not as lucky.

Many of our forage crops did not survive the 2018-2019 winter conditions or have considerable winter injury or death. If that is the case what are forage options for the 2019 growing season?

First, evaluate the stand

On new alfalfa seeding’s from 2018 there should be a minimum of 10 live plants per square foot with a minimum of 4-5 stems. A stand with less than these minimums may not be profitable. You could reseed this field to alfalfa, as autotoxcity is not an issue during the first year.

Older stands you will need a minimum of four to five crowns and a minimum 40 stems. Autotoxcity will be a problem and you should consider rotating the field to another crop. Grass stands; you need to determine if the grass has survived winter. Grasses are susceptible to winter injury and death just as legumes, this is the case in 2019.

Should you rotate?

Second, to cover your forage requirements sometimes it is better to rotate to another crop rather than interseed clover or grasses into an existing stand. Remember that an interseeded crop is competing with the existing stand and may not get enough light or nutrients to establish and provide adequate forage. This may work some years, but may not be a first option. 

Forage needs

Third, what are your forage requirements and when do I need forages? Determine your forage requirement for the livestock on your farm. Know both the quality and quantity of forage you will need. Early in the growing season you have many options, but if a decision is made after mid-June your options are limited.


Fourth, some early options are direct seeded forages or a cereal grain or cereal-pea cover crop can provide additional forage along with the underseeded crop. This option would provide forage in about 45 days. Rotating the field to corn silage will return the greatest dry matter yield per acre for the season. Early decisions allow crop flexibility when your current forage crop is determined not profitable.

After evaluating the stand, the decision is to leave the stand. Now, after first crop you determine the stand is not economical. Corn silage is a viable option and provides the greatest dry matter yield when planted into July.  Sorghum-Sudan grass hybrids would be another option, but require warm soil temperatures (>60 degrees F) and warm weather to provide an economical yield. This option is viable mid-July, however most years yields will be less than that of corn silage planted in June or early in July. Sorghum-Sudan yields are variable in central Wisconsin, good yields in hot/dry growing seasons and low yields in cool/wet growing seasons. The good news is if you need some mid-summer forage; planting a BMR Sorghum-Sudan may be a good option.      

August is a good month to plant a cereal grain or a cereal-pea mix and harvest forage in October. This option provides good yields and quality, as the late summer seeding of small grains does not mature as quickly as spring seeded small grain. Legume forage or forage mixes seeded by mid-August provide a method to establish forage for the 2020 growing season. Fall planted winter small grains are an option and then harvested for forage in the spring of 2020.

Livestock forage requirements on your farm will help develop a crop plan for the 2019 season. This plan may change as quickly as weather, but a plan is better than no plan at all.

For additional information on autotoxcity, forage options, Clark County Extension Crops and Soils Agent Richard Halopka, at 715-743-5121 or