Indiana farmers may want to consider planting an annual forage crop after their winter wheat harvest, says Keith Johnson, Purdue Extension forage specialist.
They typically follow wheat with a late soybean crop, but sometimes, especially in the northern part of the state, the growing season isn’t long enough to accommodate both crops, says Johnson. Carefully selected forage crops, which can be used for silage, hay and grazing, are able to produce vegetative growth for harvest before the growing season ends.
"Seeding soybeans can be risky because sometimes the first hard freeze comes sooner than expected and beans are left green in the pods," he says. "There's a lot of growing season left after wheat harvest, so growers can put in an annual forage crop."
For growers looking to produce silage crops, he recommends brown midrib sorghum-sudangrass and pearl millet.
Forage crops that can be seeded after wheat and be cut and dried as hay include teff and foxtail millet. Teff may allow for two good cuttings before frost, whereas foxtail millet will likely provide one major harvest.
Grazing crops for livestock can provide feed further into the fall, although farmers would need to consider the cost of fencing the field. Turnips and oats work well for grazing. Spring oats is a versatile crop that can be used for hay, silage or grazing.
"Farmers should decide which crop to select based on their needs, but it's important to use the remainder of the growing season to produce something," Johnson says. "With increasing land prices, doublecropping forage crops is a way to increase efficiency in areas where there is a need for ruminant livestock and equine feed."
He says forage crops also might provide for unique business partnerships between wheat growers and livestock producers.
"Confined feeding operations often need a place to deposit manure midseason, and the harvested wheat crop land can provide that. In return, farmers can have an outlet for late-season hay and silage."
Winter temperatures kill the forage crops mentioned above, so there is no concern that they will inhibit planting of future crops.
"With any forage crop, you have to know what you are getting," says Johnson. "It's essential that you purchase from a knowledgeable seedsman."
Johnson and Purdue agronomy graduate student John McMillan also are investigating grain amaranth as a potential post-wheat silage crop. Their research is in the preliminary stages but has so far shown that grain amaranth may be a forage crop well suited for livestock feed.