As May has turned to June, waterlogged soils have kept Upper Midwestern growers from planting corn, new forage crops – and, in cases, reseeding or overseeding winterkilled acres. At the same time, roadways once lined with round bales are looking increasingly bare, and producers are running low on feed, said Richard Halopka, Clark County, WI, Extension agent.

In response, University of Wisconsin Extension has offered a series of emergency forage meetings. A presentation authored by Mike Rankin, Fond du Lac County educator, and delivered by Halopka, suggested forage options to plant from June to first frost.

Halopka estimated that, on May 30, less than 50% of Clark County ag ground had been planted. “There's a lot of land that's sitting, and it’s a challenge. We need forage right now. We need to build some inventories and acres.”

Buying standing hay has been, historically, “a pretty good option. But we're in a different situation this year,” he said. At a minimum, producers considering this should figure costs for bare ground cash rent, potassium removal, establishment and harvest. Rankin’s example estimated rental costs of $500 per acre for a growing season.

Planting corn after taking a first cutting on a marginal alfalfa stand is another plan of action, said Halopka, at right.

“We're getting late in the year, but it's still a good option for harvesting dry-matter tons.” The big “if” is the amount of moisture available as the season moves into traditionally drier and hot months. “When we get into mid-June to July … we do not get the maximum or highest efficiency in how that plant captures nutrient energy and converts that into other sugars and starches into that plant. So that's one thing that could be a deal-breaker.”

Research shows that late-planted silage corn yields 40-50% less than early planted, full-season hybrids, he said. And Michigan State University data, using a computer model, has estimated that plowing up alfalfa and planting silage corn brought the best marginal gross return 16 out of 26 years. Harvesting a marginal alfalfa stand showed a profit six out of 26 years and planting silage corn after taking a first cutting produced well only four years of 26.

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A third spring- to mid-summer planting option would normally be Italian or perennial ryegrass, but “we’re probably too late,” Halopka said.

“It establishes extremely quickly, provides tonnage very fast, and it's pretty good quality. It can also be used as a companion crop. You could use 2-4 lbs of annual ryegrass in place of oats, because the supply of oats and peas is very tight. It's a little over a dollar a pound, so it's very economical to go on. It just should have been seeded already.”

Sorghums, including forage sorghum and sorghum-sudangrasses, are options to plant after first-cut alfalfa, he explained. “But I would look at our weather. We’re in a cooler pattern and it germinates and establishes best in 60-degree soil temperatures. Our temperature today is maybe in the mid-50s. A BMR (brown mid-rib) option is a better option; you have less lignin and it’s more digestible in the plant stem.” Sorghums do require nitrogen at about the same rate as put on a corn crop, he added.

A small grain-pea mix could still be planted at this late date – if a grower could locate any seed not already reserved. “I’ve seen a whole warehouse full of it; farmers haven’t pick it up because they’re planting corn or something else. Such a crop could yield 1.5-2 tons/acre.” Growers who do find the seed should make sure it’s identified as a forage type, rather than a grain type, for better tonnage.

Producers who don’t need high-quality feed could consider letting the crop grow to the milk or dough stage and possibly double their yield, he suggested.

“The other thing you could do is plant that oats crop now and come back in August and plant another small grain crop or a small grain-pea crop again. That would probably give you some pretty good tonnage even as you get later in the season.” But oats won’t mature as quickly in fall as it does in spring, he warned.

Late-summer-seeded alfalfa (Aug. 1-20) won’t offer producers much tonnage for 2013, but will get acres back into the crop for 2014 and beyond. If it’s been in alfalfa for a few years, however, rotate to something else to avoid autotoxicity, Halopka said.

“Winter rye has become very popular, can be used for dry cows and heifers, and, in a pinch, for a milking herd,” the Extension educator added. “It has a very good root system, retains soil, captures nitrates, readily takes up phosphate and potassium, and it’s very winter hardy. It’s just darn tough to kill.”

Winter triticale, a cross between rye and winter wheat, can follow corn silage harvest – if the harvest intervals for the herbicides used on the corn are compatible.

University of Wisconsin Extension offers additional resources:

How To Price Standing Forage

Pricing Standing Forage Worksheet

What’s Standing Hay Worth In 2013?

Timeline And Options For Alternative Forages

For more information, visit our Winterkill Resources page.