While death and taxes may be certain, another time-tested truth is that weather is never truly predictable. Although climate change remains a heated debate, it is no secret that every growing season comes with greater extremes and subsequent challenges.
Despite the comparatively warmer winter and start to spring, excessive rain and uncharacteristically cool temperatures have delayed planting or been cause for replanting in many areas. Thomas Kilcer, a certified crop adviser based in Kinderhook, N.Y., shares tips for producers who have yet to get in wet fields in his recent Crop Soil News newsletter.
Start by assessing goals. Operations in need of quality forages can still plant short-season corn hybrids, if seed is available. Corn tolerates cool temperatures better than sorghums, Kilcer explains, adding that after planting on July 10, 2015, he had a nice crop of silage by the start of October, averaging 14.7 tons of 35 percent dry matter.
“Try to get hybrids with soft kernels as many short-season hybrids are out of flint-type (hard kernels like popcorn) endosperm that goes through the cow undigested, even with processing,” Kilcer suggests.
On the other hand, if in need of a larger quantity of forage, opt for full-season corn. If planted the first week of July, corn will tassel right around when chopping takes place at the time of a killing freeze. Research by the University of Wisconsin indicates that there are two peaks in corn forage quality, at silking and just before maturity. In the case of a harvest at silking, the quality boost is in plant sugars and digestible fiber.
Kilcer also suggests utilizing longer season brown midrib (BMR) corn, as it has greater fiber digestibility and is more adapted to cool nights than sorghum species, ideally generating a greater yield.
If planting after the first week of July, a better option may be BMR sorghum or sorghum-sudangrass. Aside from being more cost effective, Kilcer prefers these forages because they are quicker out of the ground post-drilling, consequently maximizing yield potential.
Hybrids with the dry stalk gene contain less plant moisture, and proper management at harvest can reduce the chance of clostridia and butyric formation. In his trial, one cut sorghum-sudangrass ranged from 18 to 20 tons on a 35 percent dry matter basis.
Kilcer suggests BMR sudangrass for making round bales due to its higher quality and smaller stems for wrapping.
BMR pearl millet is gaining popularity as a high-quality feed due to its leaf-to-stem ratio, twice that of sorghum-sudangrass. Pearl millet has no prussic acid issues and has thinner stems that translate to easier round baling and wrapping. In Kilcer’s own trials, pearl millet yielded 25 tons per acre on a 35 percent dry matter basis.
“Preliminary work indicates it is not like the sorghum species, in that high milk producing ability decreases significantly after heading, similar to winter triticale,” Kilcer warns, adding that he will be testing this to ensure accuracy.
For those planting as late as August, lower nightly temperatures inhibit growth of warm-season crops but allow cool-season crops to thrive. Oats planted at 3 bushels per acre can reach yields from 2 to 4 tons by October 1, but yields fall significantly with delayed planting. If delayed planting is the only option, the slower forage oat type is recommended.
“The normally cool night temperatures of September conserve the sugars and produce forage of high-fiber digestibility,” Kilcer says.
When properly fertilized, oat silage has a crude protein of 16 to 17 percent. This said, Kilcer warns that it should not be fed to dry cows due to the high potassium levels. He also suggests mowing as soon as the flag leaf is out if it is to be fed to high-producing dairy cows. Because higher yielding oat crops run wet, be sure to mow with a wide swath and tedd when the top has a light gray cast. Kilcer stresses that it is critical to ensile the same day oats are mown to conserve the crop’s sugar levels.
“Leaving it overnight burns off the sugars and produces higher populations of clostridia and higher levels of butyric acid,” Kilcer explains. “ The only exception for overnight appears to be nights that drop into the 30s, which reduces respiration and holds quality.”
Adding triticale when planting oats allows two forage crops in one planting if done correctly. If planted 1-1/4 inches deep at a rate of 80 pounds of triticale to 100 pounds of oats, triticale will continue to grow into the next spring after oats are harvested at a cutting height of 3-1/2 inches or more in September.
“Are these perfect crops? No! Don’t expect 100 percent yields from 50 percent of the season. These crops are not magic,” Kilcer concludes. “However, they can give you highly digestible forage in the much abbreviated growing season.”