Late Planting Of Winter Forage

There’s very little winter forage in the ground if any to consider, but for the most part, we have no forage or grain crops in the ground now. I looked at a field of wheat yesterday – for cover crop – which was very dry. Last night we had 1/2 inch or more of rain, enough to not make a difference. It’s either late or dry. UGA Extension Forage Agronomist Dr. Dennis Hacock has thoughts late planting forage:

For parts of Georgia and the Southeast, the forecast is as favorable as we’ve seen in a long time. Plus, the forecasted amount of rain is significant. This has resulted in a number of livestock producers asking about making late plantings of winter annuals for forage. 

I recently updated an older factsheet that I wrote in 2007 with Dr. Don Ball, now Professor Emeritus at Auburn University. This factsheet, titled Late Plantings of Winter Annual Forages, provides more details on what one should consider when thinking about a late planting of winter annuals. Here’s a summary of the most pertinent parts to today’s considerations:

covercrop-dry-4

Planting winter annuals late should be considered VERY RISKY and every consideration to alternatively feeding low-price commodities and by-products (corn gluten, soy hulls, wheat mids, etc.) should be evaluated from an economic standpoint. When making a late planting of winter annuals, it is important to remember that one should consider not only the cost of seed, but also fertilizer, fuel, labor, and other costs, as well as the risk involved. If planting in late fall and early winter, focus on planting annual ryegrass. Annual ryegrass is fairly cold tolerant in the Deep South, and ryegrass seed is relatively inexpensive. Still, if a producer is going to try ryegrass in a planting in late fall or early winter, it makes sense to plant a variety known to have the potential to make early growth. Regardless, one should remember that the late planted crop is at significant risk of winter injury and the grass plants will not have a chance to reach their tillering potential. Certainly, productivity of these forages will be greatly reduced from normal expected yields. It is impossible to predict how much yield reduction will occur, but a good manager that receives favorable weather MAY produce 2000-4000 lbs of dry matter per acre if planting in late fall or early winter with a good ryegrass variety. 

A good rain would do us all good. But, a good rain will not end this drought. We are by no means “out of the woods.” This may be one’s best shot at getting decent winter annual forage growth started, but one should count the costs. If you can afford to take the risk and it is your best option, go for it. But, if you are literally betting the farm on a late winter planting, don’t. The risk is too great! A more expensive alternative that has less risk would be a far better choice.

For more information on how to manage during this drought, visit the drought management page on georgiaforages.com, which includes management advice, links to hay directories, and much more.

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