Oats are a great choice for Indiana livestock producers wanting to salvage some value from drought-ravaged cornfields, says Keith Johnson, Purdue Extension forage specialist.
If soil moisture returns after the corn has been harvested, oats are one of several forage crops that can be planted in late summer-early fall to supply forage for livestock next spring, he says. Plant oats alone if the crop will be mechanically harvested; if it will be grazed, consider seeding a combination of oats and turnips. Oats won’t survive until spring, but turnips may survive a mild Indiana winter.
Another possible choice is annual ryegrass, but growers would need to pay close attention to keep the crop from becoming a nuisance. Johnson recommends an early seeding to have both fall and spring harvests.
Some small grains also could be options.
"Carefully selected varieties of soft red winter wheat, winter cereal rye and winter triticale are adapted across the state of Indiana," he says. "These crops can be lightly grazed in the fall if weather conditions favor growth, and there is an expectation to produce more abundant forage the following spring."
While some farmers might be tempted to select a winter barley, it's not as winterhardy as some of the other small grains, says Johnson.
A major factor in selecting a forage crop to follow corn is the type of herbicides used on the cornfield. Most herbicide labels do not specifically list the species that are used for cover crops or fall forages, so they often fall under the "other crops" listed section at the maximum restriction period, says Travis Legleiter, Purdue Extension weed scientist.
"These restrictions are meant to protect the rotation crop and the end consumers and livestock consuming the harvested crop," Legleiter points out.
More information about herbicide restrictions is available in Purdue Extension's free publication, Cover Crops and the Corn and Soybean Herbicide Rotational Restrictions.