Many local producers harvested their cereal rye or other winter small grain crops as baleage or haylage. However, some farmers still are looking forward to harvesting those crops for grain and making some much-needed straw as well.
Those fields harvested for forage are likely now in corn or soybeans. But, if you are planning on harvesting grain in the next couple weeks or if you have oats coming off soon either as forage or grain, below are a few considerations to follow those crops.
Oats as a forage have received a lot of attention in research plots recently. Oats as grain, forage and even straw are highly palatable. An article by Jason Hartschuh and Al Gahler, OSU Extension Educators, discussed the findings of one such study. The current recommendation includes planting 2-3 bu. per acre in early August, applying 50 lbs. of nitrogen per acre, and keeping a close watch on recommendations for a preventative fungicide treatment against rust. Severe presence of rust will negatively impact all aspects of forage quality.
Field trials receiving 50 lbs. of nitrogen had an average crude protein test of 14% compared to 10% without added nitrogen. Dry matter yields averaged 1 to 1.5 ton per acre with 3 tons being quite possible under favorable conditions. You may consider purchasing a forage variety of oats as compared to the typical spring sown varieties to maximize yield. Recently, double cropping with oats has been equally or more profitable than double crop soybeans.
Summer planted oats are typically cut between the boot and early dough stage, partially dried, and then ensiled as wrapped round bales. Oats also can be effectively grazed and occasionally baled dry. Drying may take up to six days in the fall with multiple tedding and raking passes.
Warm season, C-4 grasses, like sorghum, sorghum-sudangrass, and pearl millet are beginning to gain attention in the Midwest as another forage option following winter cereal crops. Ideally, these would be planted the same time as corn, though they can be successfully established through mid-July. Care must be taken in harvesting or grazing these at the recommended height as nitrate and prussic acid poisoning are a concern. Multiple cuts or grazing passes can be made off these. Harvest or graze when the plants reach 15-20 inches in height (18-24 for sorghum-sudangrass). Staggering the planting dates in a grazing situation will improve utilization.
Grazing allows a wider selection of plant species to consider for summer forage seedings. Some mixed stands simply do not work well in mechanical harvesting systems. You may want to include brassicas like forage turnips or radishes which are highly digestible, field peas or cow peas which are high in protein and can fix nitrogen in the soil, oats or buckwheat — quick to germinate and establish while also an excellent scavenger of phosphorous (ideal in areas with excessive and repeated manure application).
You may also consider leaving those crops a true cover crop by not harvesting them at all. This strategy also improves weed control. In this case, choose plant species you are prepared to terminate and pair species with similar termination strategies. Brassicas, oats, peas and buckwheat will all winter kill. Clovers, rye, barley and vetch do not winter kill and require an herbicide application or intensive mechanical tillage to terminate. Buckwheat should be terminated at flowering to prevent seed production that may germinate in your cash crops the following year.
To help with selecting the forages that best fit your operation, consider getting a copy of the Midwest Cover Crop guide as it provides great details on many species outside of our typical cash crops. The online Midwest Cover Crop Decision Tool is another great resource.
Before double cropping or seeding a cover crop, consult your crop insurance agency as some management strategies may affect your eligibility to receive payments on cash crops.