Sept. 25, 2018 08:00 AM

As far as winter annual cereal forages are concerned, rye has ruled the roost for many years as a crop that fits nicely after corn silage harvest in Northern regions. Wheat, on the other hand, is a favorite in the West.

Though rye and wheat are still fan favorites, triticale is making inroads with dairy producers regardless of locale. Ironically, triticale is derived from crossing wheat and rye.

With growing interest and use of triticale, our body of research and experience with the crop is also on the rise. These days, it’s probably safe to say that interest and acres of triticale are at an all-time high.

Triticale, like other winter annuals, isn’t bulletproof but it does provide a low-risk opportunity to obtain additional forage that is both high in yield and quality. It also offers one more means to apply and utilize manure.

In the North, as we plow through this last half of September, many have already seeded or will soon be seeding winter annuals. To get the most from winter triticale as a forage crop, keep these five keys to success in mind.

Variety selection

New varieties generally get developed and released because they’re better than the existing, older varieties. Triticale is no different. Where triticale varieties have been tested for forage yield and quality differences, the superior performance of newer varieties is apparent. Planting certified, weed-free seed of known germination percentage and purity will always pay dividends.

Plant early

New York crop consultant and independent researcher Tom Kilcer routinely stresses the importance of an early planting date to promote top and root growth along with fall tillering.

He suggests seeding triticale 10 days to two weeks ahead of the recommended winter wheat planting date for a particular area. In his research, a 10-day difference in planting date has sometimes resulted in over a 30 percent difference in yield the following year. Kilcer notes that earlier planting is most critical in Northern regions.

Don’t plant too shallow

Kilcer also suggests planting triticale seed 1.25 inches deep. Shallower planting depths predispose the plant to winterkill and heaving. A grain drill that commands optimum seed placement returns a much larger likelihood for success than broadcasting the seed followed by light tillage.

Nitrogen

Winter annuals such as triticale will take up nitrogen in the fall and keep it from leaching through the soil profile. Because fall tillering is important to maximize yield in early plantings, triticale will generally need some nitrogen applied in the fall. This can be in the form of manure or commercial fertilizer. Supply about 50 to 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

An additional application of nitrogen in the spring will help promote spring tillering and also may improve the crude protein content of the forage. Triticale is less prone to lodging than winter rye.

Harvest timing

Like most forage crops, there is going to be a yield-quality trade-off with winter cereals. Most growers are going to sacrifice yield for high-quality forage. At the same time, this will also allow for the timely planting of a subsequent crop such as corn or sorghum.

To achieve high-quality triticale forage, it needs to be cut in the flag leaf to boot stage (prior to heading). Yields can be quite variable depending on all of the production practices discussed previously but are often cited in the range of 2 to 4 tons of dry matter per acre.

A delayed harvest to the soft-dough stage will often boost yields by more than 50 percent. Such a harvest strategy will also reduce forage quality significantly and eliminate the option of planting another full-season crop. Both of these factors are strong deterrents to utilizing a delayed harvest.

Triticale is providing many dairy producers additional high-quality feed with very little risk. It fits well into most dairy crop rotations and provides multiple environmental benefits in the form of reduced soil erosion and nitrogen uptake.