Corn silage yields were short across Pennsylvania this year, so many farmers bolstered their forage supplies by planting oats after the silage harvest, reports Paul Craig, Dauphin County Extension agent.

“With the outstanding warm and sunny fall weather this crop was able to provide a forage stretcher for many dairy and livestock producers,” says Craig. “Another advantage of this fall seeding was the establishment of a soil-improving, soil-protecting and manure nutrient recycling cover crop that sets the stage for an excellent no-till seedbed for the corn crop in 2011.”

Comments from growers in his south-central region indicate that there was a wide variation in seed quality. Producers who bought seed oats were very satisfied with their stands. But many growers who used bin-run seed were disappointed in the germination and seedling vigor.

“Often a simple germination check showed potential problems but many growers still used these inferior seeds,” he says. “Was it seed cost or seed availability that made this choice? Advanced planning and ordering of seeds sets the stage for having access to the highest-quality seeds.”

Getting the seeds into the ground as soon as possible after chopping was an advantage, he adds. Seeding rates ranged from 75 to 120 lbs/acre. Higher seeding rates resulted in thicker stands that produced more, but thinner, stems with abundant leaves. A seeding rate of around 100 lbs/acre seemed more than adequate. Most growers no-tilled the oats and then applied 6,000 -8,000 gallons/acre of liquid manure for optimum growth and development.

Approximately 60 days after seeding, most stands were showing signs of entering the reproductive stage with the beginning of head emergence. The cool fall weather slowed crop maturity and widened the harvest window. Frost didn’t affect the crop and temperatures as low as 24° slowed growth but didn’t stop crop development.

Reported silage yields ranged from less than 1.5 tons/acre for fields with thin stands harvested prior to boot stage, to 3.5 tons/acre for later-harvested, well-established stands. Reported forage test results showed 11.9-20.4% crude protein, 40-46% ADF and 58-63% NDF.

Those wide ranges “show the importance of using forage analysis to accurately measure this highly variable crop,” says Craig.