Extended periods of rainfall, flooding and hail have some no-tillers scrambling for replant or prevented planting options, says Iowa State University agronomist Stephen Barnhart.
Before changing crops or planting an "emergency" forage crop, Barnhart suggests checking with your crop insurance representative first.
When considering crops for an annual forage, some practical issues for consideration include:
- Can I use, sell or rent the forage?
- Will the forage crop be harvested as silage or dry hay?
- Will it be grazed or simply be a cover crop?
While many species may fit the criteria for these uses, Barnhart says the following are among the most practical, predictable and economical.
Dry hay options — Foxtail millet, Japanese millet, Sudangrass (maybe), teff, oats
Silage options — Foxtail millet, Japanese millet, Sudangrass, Sorghum and Sudan Hybrid, hybrid pearl millet, teff, oats
Grazing options — Foxtail millet, Japanese millet, Sudangrass, Sorghum and Sudan hybrid, hybrid pearl millet, teff, oats
Barnhart cautions that seed supplies of some of these forage crops are in short supply in normal production years. so you need to check on seed availability.
Barnhart says this can be a multiple-cut summer annual for use as fresh-cut forage, pasture or silage. It should be rotationally grazed for best use, and can be difficult to dry thoroughly for hay. Varieties vary in height and leafiness.
"Sudangrass can be planted through early July with the first growth usable in about 50 days," he says. "At this late planting date, you may get a second harvest or grazing."
A hydrocyanic acid poisoning (Prussic acid) risk is minimal, but avoid pasturing severely drought stressed or very short (less than 12 inches) growth/tiller regrowth and use caution if grazing soon after frost, he adds.
Hybrid Sorghum And Sudangrass
This is a multiple-cut summer annual used for fresh-cut forage, pasture (rotation grazing is recommended) or silage. Varieties vary greatly in height, leafiness and grain yield depending on the parent lines making up the hybrid.
"These hybrids can be planted through early July with the first growth usable in about 50 days as well," Barnhart says. "You may get a second harvest or grazing."
There is also a hydrocyanic acid poisoning (Prussic acid) risk if plants or tillers are grazed or green fed at shorter than 24 inches or during severe drought. Like Sudangrass, use caution if grazing soon after frost, Barnhart says.
Barnhart says that Sudangrass, and sorghum and Sudangrass hybrids are better adapted than most species to drought, high temperature and low soil pH than corn, but will yield less in seasons with cool August and September temperatures.
He says that these hybrids should be harvested at 2 to 3 feet of height (two to three cuttings for season). Harvesting at later maturity may increase yield, but will result in very low forage quality.
Short Grain Sorghum and Forage Soybean
This mixture may be planted through early summer and is harvestable within about 60 days. It requires good fertilization for production, Barnhart says. The forage should be harvested at late vegetative or at the very early head stage of sorghum.
This warm-season annual grass is also known as German, Siberian or hay millet, and can be used as harvested or grazed forage. It can be planted through early July, and is usable in about 50 days.
"Only one summer growth should be expected," Barnhart says. "Foxtail millet is the best of the millets for an emergency hay crop, but can become a weedy grass if allowed to produce mature seed."
This summer annual grass produces a relatively coarse (stemmy) forage. It can be used as fresh-cut forage, hay, silage or pasture, Barnhart says.
"It can be planted through early July and is useable in about 50 days," he says. "If the first crop is cut at vegetative growth stage, regrowth yields are more likely.
"Japanese millet is closely related to the grassy weed barnyard grass, so avoid allowing seed formation."
Hybrid Pearl Millet
This multiple-cut, warm-season annual can be used for fresh-cut forage, pasture (rotation grazing is recommended) or silage. It resembles sorghum and Sudangrass hybrids in plant structure. It can also be planted through early July, and is usable in about 50 days.
"It has somewhat slower regrowth than sorghum and Sudangrass hybrids, and has limited production in cool summer seasons," Barnhart says. "There is no risk of hydrocyanic acid (Prussic acid) poisoning with pearl millet.
"These annual millets have been of particular interest in recent years. Remember that these are warm-season crops and perform best in warm, sunny growing seasons. They have not performed up to expectation during cool, cloudy summers."
This annual forage grass is a warm-season grass that can be planted from mid-May into July. Its seeds are very small and must be planted very shallow.
"Teff seedlings are relatively noncompetitive, but once established, they can produce one or more harvests of grass hay," Barnhart says. "Grazing should be delayed until later in the summer when root systems are stronger. As with other annual forage crops, later planting dates limit the yield potential."
Plant oats in July as a cover crop and graze at any time, Barnhart says. It may produce seed heads at a short height, and can be cut and stored as dry hay or silage form late-vegetative through early milk stage.
"At dough stage, the stems decrease feeding value greatly," he says. "Other cereal grains may also fit this use, such as barley, spring wheat or spring triticale, but their seed will likely be more expensive and in shorter supply than for oats."
Barnhart cautions that these annual forages can come under scrutiny later in the growing season for high nitrate risk if the season turns dry.