Immature soybeans could be another forage option for Indiana livestock producers struggling to feed their herds,says Keith Johnson, Purdue University Extension forage specialist.

Many of the state’s double-crop soybeans will struggle to reach maturity before the first killing freeze, he says. An early wheat harvest and dry spring weather allowed growers to plant them farther north than what is typical, but drought delayed germination.

The crop should be harvested before the leaves begin to yellow, and Johnson recommends ensiling it rather than harvesting it as hay. Making silage will reduce leaf loss, the risk of rain damage and feed waste.

"If chopped and ensiled, livestock will be less likely to sort out the lower-quality stem, as compared to when soybeans are made and fed as long-stemmed hay."

Grazing soybean fields is also an option, but it’s more management-intensive and comes with risks.

"In my opinion, grazing soybean forage is risky because it is difficult to control selective grazing of immature grain," he says. Founder and off-feed problems could result if too much of the seed is consumed.

Growers and livestock producers also need to consider what pesticides were applied, including miticides used more heavily this year to combat spider-mite infestations. Pesticides have different harvest restrictions and some aren’t registered for use on soybeans harvested as forage.

Southern Indiana growers who carry crop insurance on their double-crop soybeans will need to check with their insurance agents to get clearance before cutting the crop for forage. The challenge, says Johnson, will be to know when the first killing freeze will happen.

"We don't know when that killing freeze will occur until maybe three days beforehand, so it's important for growers to alert their crop insurance agents early if they are considering this option."