This season’s spotty weather has produced some spotty crops. One area will have rain and decent crops, while just a mile away the crop is struggling from the lack of water.
What we have seen is that regardless of weather, farms that rotate frequently, and build their soil structure and organic matter with intensively managed winter forage, are doing much better despite the conditions.
Even so, some farms are facing a forage shortage and are still looking at what they can plant on failed ground. While it is too late for corn, you could use sorghum-sudangrass if you are south of the Mason-Dixon line.
In my tests, we have gotten 2 to 3 tons of decent forage planted late in July with a warm fall. If we have a long fall, you might get one cut of brown midrib (BMR) sudangrass.
One crop that is often overlooked is BMR pearl millet. Other researchers and I have found that pearl millets have very high feed quality. In one replicated study I was involved with, grazing corn was 12.9% crude protein, sorghum-sudangrass was 14.2% crude protein and BMR pearl millet was 20% crude protein. All three crops provided lots of energy and had very high plant sugars.
The pearl millet does not have prussic acid management issues. It yields very well in late summer and has thinner stems that might be easier to round-bale for wrapping. If you are looking at grazing, be careful. It is quite rich and can cause bloat.
Across northern New York, Michigan and New England, temperatures will soon start dropping at night and will slow the production of warm-season crops. Cool-season crops can thrive under these conditions.
Stands of straight cool-season grasses, if fed with nitrogen and sulfur, and quenched by adequate fall rains, can give good yields in early October. The key is that it will not dry fast in fall, so wide-swath, same-day haylage and the proper inoculant will make high-quality forage.
If you’re planting right now, oats for forage have the biggest potential and are most practical. Planted at 3-bushels-per-acre grain-type, you could harvest 2 to 4 tons of dry matter by the end of September, at least in the Albany, N.Y., area. If planting is delayed, yields can fall dramatically.
The normally cool nights of September conserve the sugars and help produce forage of high fiber digestibility. With sufficient nitrogen, plus sulfur, or manure, it will easily reach 18% crude protein.
Fall oats are not a foolproof crop, though. There are critical steps for success.
In more southern areas, aphids can bring in barley yellow dwarf virus, which can kill the plant. Cool nights with heavy dew seem to knock the aphids out and reduce the potential for loss.
Elson Shields of Cornell reports, “Since barley yellow dwarf virus is circulative, a neonic seed treatment will kill many aphids before they can transmit the virus. ... Most of your problems would be in the disease area like rust.”
Gary Bergstrom of Cornell reports that rust populations in New York have developed the ability to overcome certain oat resistance genes, and they can now infect older, previously resistant varieties. Scout reports coming out of fields with susceptible varieties have described crops covered in rust spores looking like orange highway cones.
Resistant varieties from Mark Sorrells of Cornell called Steuben and Hayden are on the market. Another alternative is scouting so you can apply a fungicide to control the rust.
Ignoring this until mowing can spell disaster. If you plant nontreated seed, we suggest slightly delaying planting for the cool nights of August to reduce the aphid population (will not help rust). We once planted oats at the end of July, and by the end of August, it was all dead from disease.
Grain oats for forage will be ready in late September when you still have some heat to dry it for silage. If you are not going to be able to plant until later, then the slower forage oat type would be the better recommendation.
Be liberal with the manure before planting and immediately incorporate it to capture the ammonia nitrogen. Please note that if you apply manure before planting, it is not recommended that you feed this to dry cows as potassium levels will run over 5%.
Heavy-yielding fall oats are wet. I suggest mowing wide swath and tedding after two hours of drying. Because of the high yield, the shear mass will allow only the top to dry. As soon as the top has a light grey cast — pick up a surface plant and see if it is greener underneath — hit it with the tedder to get the lower layers spread for photosynthetic drying. Use a slower forward speed or you will make nondrying tedder lumps.
It is critical that it be ensiled the same day you mow because of the very high sugar levels. Leaving it overnight — unless it goes down into the low 40s or high 30s — burns off the sugars and produces higher populations of clostridia and higher levels of butyric acid.
Same-day haylage, because of the very high sugar levels, will speed the fermentation process and produce an excellent forage. The key is to use an inoculant designed for wet, high-sugar forages, and to chop an inch long to control leachate. You need a sunny day before you mow to have substrate for the inoculant to work.
Oats and triticale
Another option is planting fall spring oats with a winter triticale. The normal oat planting rate is 100 pounds of seed per acre. In this scenario, you would plant 96 pounds of oats and 80 pounds of triticale for a late-September oat harvest.
If you mow the oats at 4 inches, the triticale will continue to grow. Fertilize the triticale as normal the next spring, and you will have two high-quality forage crops in one planting.
This can be followed by corn or a no-till legume.
Where this has failed is when we planted on time but had no rain, which delayed the oat harvest to early November, it was too late for triticale to recover.
Kilcer is a certified crop adviser in Rutledge, Tenn., formerly of Kinderhook, N.Y.