To Plant Annuals to Help Meet Forage Needs

On October 05, 2020

To Plant Annuals to Help Meet Forage Needs


A large portion of the state has been affected by summer drought and reports of low corn silage yields are coming in. Forage availability may therefore become critical for some farmers. Extension Specialists Sjoerd W. Duiker and Virginia Ishler explain cool-season annual species may be considered to help meet the nutritional needs of your ruminant animals.

At this moment there is still time to plant an annual forage crop, but as fall progresses and temperatures get cooler, the species you can choose from become fewer and fewer. The potential of legumes or forbs to make it through the winter and contribute significantly to spring forage yield has already become questionable, but cereal rye, triticale, wheat, barley, and annual ryegrass can still be considered, depending on where you are in the state.


Cereal rye is the most winter hardy, with triticale and wheat very similar, while barley and annual ryegrass are less winter hardy. This means rye, triticale, and wheat can still be planted in most of the state this month, but annual ryegrass and barley are likely to be successful only in the southern lowland portion of the state. Cereals are typically harvested once when they are in the early to mid-boot stage in the spring. Cereal rye matures the earliest, followed by triticale about a week later, and wheat 2 weeks later.


In the Penn State forage evaluation trial in central Pennsylvania, early-mid boot stage fell on April 28-May 8 for rye, May 14 for annual ryegrass, and May 15-26 for triticale, depending on the variety. Penn State’s Short-Lived Grass and Cover Crop variety testing program can help guide variety selection. It is critical that you establish the species you select as soon as possible to obtain satisfactory results. Since you are planting these for forage, make sure you use a heavy seeding rate (at least 120 lbs./A, or two bu/A for the cereals, and 20 lbs./A for annual ryegrass).


Start with a clean field to minimize weed competition and maximize yields. If you have a manure history, it may not be necessary to do this, but if nitrogen is likely to be limited, apply 30 lbs. N/A this fall and 100 lbs. N/A at greenup in the spring. Make sure you plant these forages at their proper depth – 1-1.5 inches deep for the cereals, and 0.25-0.5 inches for annual ryegrass.


Single-cut dry matter yields in PSU forage evaluation trial in the spring ranged from 4.05-6.55 T/A dry matter for triticale and 3.42-5.08 T/A for rye, and 3.19-4.00 T/A for annual ryegrass, while higher yields were possible in multi-cut systems. Crude protein ranged from 9-13%, with higher CP in multi-cut systems. NDFD-30 ranged from 49-60, with higher digestibility for annual ryegrass than the cereals. Small grains harvested for silage can be successfully stored in Ag-Bags or in trenches. The ideal dry matter for storage is between 30-35%. If they are ensiled below 30% dry matter, then fermentation may be compromised. Small grain silage can make excellent milk cow feed, especially when fed a long with corn silage. If the weather does not cooperate in the spring and harvest is delayed, small grain silage can still be a good forage source for dry cows and heifers. Many dairy producers have incorporated small grain silage into their cropping rotation over the years with great success.


Lead Image: Cool season grains or grasses can make high quality silage in the spring. (Photo: Penn State Extension)



To Take Soil Samples For Fertility Analysis


Routine soil testing is the foundation of any successful soil fertility program.  Without knowing the nutrient levels and soil pH in your crop fields, it is impossible to manage nutrients and lime applications for peak crop production and the most profitable economics.  Soil testing is the only way to know how much of each nutrient is needed and where.  Extension Soil Fertility specialist Charlie White explains trying to manage soil fertility without soil testing is like trying to drive with your eyes closed.


There are several reasons why collecting soil samples for soil testing in the fall is a preferred time period.  First, soil sampling in the fall after crops have been harvested lets you walk or drive a buggy through the field to collect soil cores without going over a standing crop.  Next, the soil has usually moistened up a bit, so it’s easier to get a soil probe in and out of the ground.  Finally, you will receive the results from the soil testing with enough time to make a game plan for lime, fertilizer, and manure applications for the coming year.


If you end up needing lime, winter can be a good time to spread lime on frozen ground to avoid soil compaction and allow enough time for the lime to react and raise soil pH before the next year’s crops.  You’ll only be able to know if lime is needed, and how much, if you have a soil test taken in the fall.  If you need P and K fertility, you can calculate how much you’ll need for your different fields and place an order with your fertility dealer and figure out an application strategy well in advance of the next crop year.  If you are importing manure onto the farm, results of soil testing can help you determine which fields will benefit the most from the N, P, and K contained in the manure, and may help you strategically locate manure stacking areas for the most efficient spreading on the fields that will be receiving manure.


Penn State Extension has several resources available to help you through the process of soil sampling if this is unfamiliar to you.  The Penn State Agricultural Analytical Services Lab website for soil fertility testing ( has links to sampling instructions and submission forms.  There is also a video ( that explains the basics of soil sampling.  Many people are accustomed to purchasing “pre-paid” soil testing kits from county Extension offices, which is essentially a special sample bag with a sticker on it indicating the analysis cost has been paid already.  Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, county Extension offices are not open to sell the pre-paid kits.  Don’t worry, it’s perfectly acceptable to submit your soil sample to the lab in a regular Ziploc bag with a check for the analysis costs.  You still need to fill out and include a Sample Submission form for all your samples, available at the link above.


Soil tests are usually good for making fertilizer recommendations for the following 3 years of the rotation.  When you factor in the acreage that the soil test represents and the frequency of testing once every 3 years, the costs of soil sampling only amount to a dollar or two per acre per year, even including the labor of obtaining the soil sample.  Given that the cost of fertilizer and lime inputs each year can easily run up to and over a hundred dollars per acre, the cost of soil testing is negligible relative to the value derived from it in being able to make informed and economical decisions about nutrient applications.


Quote Of The Week: “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present” George Washington