By Greg Roth, Extension Agronomist

We conducted two meeting this fall to conclude a NESARE cover crop project. These were conducted at the Jim Biddle farm in Williamsburg and the Troy Miller farm in Fredericksburg, who collaborated with our team for the past three years.

Both operations have successfully incorporated triticale and/or rye in their dairy cropping program and have seen the benefits in improving their forage inventories and soils.

At the last meeting at the Millers last week, I took time to share some of the details we learned together from the project. Both operations treat these as primary crops and get them seeded timely and at about 150 pounds per acre to get a good fall stand. They are using named varieties of triticale and working with suppliers to find varieties that have a track record of high yield and forge quality.

Our forage variety testing group has been evaluating commercial and experimental winter grains and mixes in their short lived forage trials. These provide an interesting look at what is possible with some of our winter cover crop options.

Both operations track fertility carefully and try to keep up with the heavy nutrient uptake associated with double cropping. They apply manure in the fall, then follow up with 60 to 80 pounds of N in the spring. They monitor soil tests, especially potassium, to keep fields in the optimum range. The combination of no-till, manure and cover cropping are helping to minimize erosion and build soil health.

They shoot for harvest at the flag leaf emergence stage to optimize forage quality. If harvest is delayed, they still can still utilize the crop for replacement stock feed. Both operations have more cover crop acres than they need, so some can be terminated and planted to corn. Both operations also maintain some alfalfa acres, perhaps 1/3 of total, for feed and for crop rotation purposes.

On the Miller farm, they also plant rye, which adds to their harvest flexibility. The Millers also plant triticale into alfalfa at 1.5 bu/acre in the fall. They feel it helps heavy first cuttings stand better and also increases the tonnage of the first cutting. The maturity of their triticale variety seems to match well with the alfalfa as well and we are getting more reports of farms having success with this practice.

Both of the operations manage harvest to maximize quality, by cutting in a wide swath, then tedding to increase the drying rate and then rake and chop rapidly. It has been very rewarding to me to work with both of these farms to better understand the details of successful winter grain silage production.