Ohio farmers whose wet fields prevent them from planting cool-season perennial forages by May 15 should consider warm-season annual forages instead, says John Grimes, Ohio State University Extension beef coordinator. Planting cool-season perennials after that date carries considerable risk of establishment failure from weed competition and summer stresses, he says.
“For anyone considering forages for silage, corn should be the first choice because of its high yields and energy content,” says Grimes. “Corn can be planted as late as mid- to late June for silage production, although planting late carries increased risk, especially if dry weather develops.”
Planting in May is much better, but June-planted corn with adequate rainfall can produce more forage with greater feeding value than other summer-annual grasses, he says. If forage is needed before the ear is formed, corn can be greenchopped. Even without the ear, the feeding value of corn will be at least equal to that of the other summer-annual grasses and yields are likely to be higher.
Summer-annual grasses such as sudangrass, sorghum-sudangrass hybrids and pearl millet grow rapidly in summer and can provide good-quality forage when managed properly, says Grimes. All those species can be planted from late May to mid-July and will produce 3.5-5 tons of dry matter per acre assuming sufficient moisture is present for emergence and growth. Soils should be at least 60-65°F before planting. Pearl millet is essentially free of prussic acid poisoning potential, while the sorghum species have varying degrees of potential for causing that problem. Nitrate toxicity is possible with all summer-annual grasses. Refer to the Ohio Agronomy Guide for how to reduce those risks and for more details on establishment and management.
Mixtures of summer-annual grasses and legumes such as field peas and soybeans are marketed by some seed dealers. The legumes generally improve protein content but only in the first growth when they are present. Because the legumes usually increase the seed cost, evaluate the cost-to-benefit ratio of purchasing mixtures with legumes vs. supplementing livestock with other protein sources, Grimes advises.
Teff is a new warm-season grass option that can be used for hay, silage or pasture, he says. It has become popular among horse owners. In Ohio State test plots it produced about 3-4 tons of dry matter per acre from three cuttings. It must be planted when soils are warm and can tolerate drought stress as well as waterlogged soil conditions. For more details, see Teff as Emergency Forage, a Cornell University fact sheet.