Planting Small Grains in Late Summer for Supplemental Forage

Dr. Mark Sulc, Forage Specialist, The Ohio State University

Forage yields have been reduced this year due to the late spring frost and dry weather since May. Supplemental forage can be produced yet this year by planting small grain species on land coming out of wheat or corn silage production.

Planting oat or spring triticale for forage production are probably the best options remaining for producing supplemental forage for dairy animals yet this year, especially if the forage will be harvested by mechanical means. Oat seed usually can be purchased at a more economical price than spring triticale seed, but either species will produce good dry matter yields of high quality forage within 60 to 80 days of planting.

When planted in early to mid-August and with adequate rainfall for vigorous growth, oat and spring triticale can produce up to 5000 lb of dry matter by mid-October. At that point, they will reach the boot stage of growth, which provides the best compromise of yield and forage quality. If harvest is delayed until November, August planted oat will be heading out and yield near 6000 lb/acre of dry matter. Forage quality will be lower at that stage.

Oat and spring triticale can also be planted in early to mid-September, immediately after an early corn silage harvest. With the later planting date, yields will be much lower (1500 to 2000 lb/acre of dry matter) and harvest will be delayed into months with poor drying conditions (November to early December). On the positive side, forage quality will be very high - CP will be near 30% and NDF will be 30 to 35%. Green chopping or grazing will likely be the best options for harvesting oat or spring triticale forage planted after corn silage because of the high probability of poor drying conditions in late autumn.

When planting small grains in late summer, no-till seeding will conserve moisture and provide firmer soil for either harvesting equipment or grazing animals in the fall. Oat should be planted at 70 to 90 lb/acre and spring triticale at 90 to 110 lb/acre.

When planted after wheat or corn silage, oat or spring triticale will likely require additional nitrogen for good growth. If applying N fertilizer, apply from 50 to 80 lb/acre of N at planting. The higher rate should be used where wheat straw is not removed prior to planting. Manure applications prior to planting can replace some or all of the N fertilizer, depending on the amount of readily available N in the manure.

Wheat and winter triticale are not good options for autumn forage because they do not grow much in autumn. However, wheat and winter triticale will produce good yields of high quality forage in the spring. So they are good options for late September or early October planting for spring forage production. Winter rye is also an option for early spring forage. Some forage-type varieties of winter rye (e.g. Wheeler, Winter King, and Aroostook) will produce more forage in the fall than common cereal rye, but oats will usually produce more forage in the autumn than the forage-type winter rye varieties. On the other hand, winter rye will survive the winter and can provide early spring forage, whereas the oat will winterkill.

Many producers will likely need additional forage this coming autumn as well as early next spring. In that case, mixtures of oats with winter rye or oats with winter triticale are good options. The oats will produce the bulk of the autumn forage, and the winter cereal will produce significant forage yield in early spring.

Annual ryegrass is another possible option for producing high quality forage, especially for grazing in late autumn and early winter. Some varieties are more likely to survive the winter than others. Refer to the Ohio Forage Performance Trials for selecting varieties ( Plant 20 to 25 lb/acre of annual ryegrass seed and apply 100 to 120 lb/acre of urea either at planting or at the early tillering stage.

We have also planted annual ryegrass in early September the last two years, and one can expect 800 to 2000 lb/acre of dry matter by late November and early December, with yields of 3 to 5 tons/acre of dry matter the following year from improved varieties with good winter survival and high N fertilization. Annual ryegrass can be planted earlier in August, especially if soil moisture is favorable, which should provide higher yields in late autumn.

Sorghum sudangrass and pearl millet were good options for planting after wheat, if planted by July 15-20. After July 20, their production potential declines rapidly because of the diminishing number of warm days remaining. Those species require warm temperatures for rapid growth. In addition, late planting increases the potential for risk of prussic acid poisoning with sorghum-sudangrass because harvest is delayed to when freezing temperatures are more likely to occur.

Additional information on annual forages and their establishment and management is provided in Chapter 7 of the Ohio Agronomy Guide, 14th ed., available at Extension offices and at Good management is important to achieve success with these alternative forages.