It takes fast germination and decent harvest weather, but a fall oats doublecrop in central Wisconsin can yield well and give good digestibility, says Wayne Coblentz, USDA-ARS research agronomist and dairy scientist at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center.

Coblentz and colleagues studied the viability of planting oats in late summer for use as a fall emergency forage.

“For the options available here in central Wisconsin, this would seem to be the one to give you the most potential for both yield and pretty exceptional quality characteristics,” he says.

For one thing, fall-grown oats produce half or even less than half as much lignin as spring-grown oats. Lignin, a part of a plant’s forage fiber that helps keep it upright, is not digestible. But with little lignin forming, fall oats are highly digestible.

A heavy snowfall can flatten a low-lignin oats crop, which should be harvested before that is likely, Coblentz warns. At least grazing heifers would be able to utilize the forage, he adds.

Fall oats “will accumulate pretty startling amounts of sugar. That balances against the accumulation of fiber that normally occurs in plant growth. So you wind up with a plant that, for a fairly extended period of time, has consistent energy densities.”

That allows a producer to have a fairly wide harvest window where yield increases and quality won’t decline.

But the crop’s success will depend on the weather, he says. “You’re not necessarily going to get a consistent response from one year to the next. Some years that we’ve run plots up here, we harvested more than 4 tons of dry matter in late October or the first of November. It can vary from there down to 1 ton/acre.”

He suggests that farmers plant a couple of varieties at different times, depending on acreage available. Plant-ing a forage oat early and a grain type a bit later will spread a grower’s risk.

Coblentz and Mike Bertram with the University of Wisconsin-ARS Arlington station, studied growth rates and sugar concentrations of forage and grain oats. They concluded that the forage-type ForagePlus is likely to maximize yields in central Wisconsin when planted as late as the first week of August. But if planting after that week, more-rapidly maturing grain types (Ogle and Vista) will bring higher yields than a forage type.

For more data, view two factsheets at bit.ly/KqUWtQ and bit.ly/KqUWtQ.