Your Forage Year Review
contributed article by Justin Fruechte, Forage & Cover Crop Specialist
Millborn Seeds, Brookings, S.D.
Other than your banker or tax advisor, farmers and ranchers don’t get a formal performance review at the end of the year like most professions. Now that feed has been taken off for the year, it’s a good time to review the successes and failures of those crops. We all know each year the weather will dictate outcomes, but there can still be key takeaways that can be utilized in planning for future years.
From the outside looking in, we get the opportunity to see and hear from producers across the Midwest here at Millborn Seeds. The common denominator from most would be that hedging outcomes through crop diversity reaped benefits this year.
Though many are extremely dry now, the spring started quite wet. The long-lasting spring rains delayed planting and even forced producers to enroll acres into prevented planting. We got the opportunity to learn the new and improved USDA-RMA PP rules, which allowed producers to plant and harvest feed from those acres as they wished. The lifting of the time restrictions gave livestock producers a positive opportunity to use cover crops mixes, sorghum and Sudan hybrids, or millets in early summer. These thrived this past summer and prevailed to be high-yielding forage options with a high dollar value. One key takeaway was that Japanese millet needs to be utilized more. It’s ability to regrow and provide two cuttings is its advantage, but even with one cutting, it will out yield German and Siberian millet. If this scenario realigns in the future, it is a fantastic opportunity to build feed reserves on cropland.
Those that planned to use more grazing acres benefited from season-long cover crop blends. Diverse multi-species forage cocktails with brassicas, warm and cool season grasses, and legumes thrived when planted in early summer. In many cases, they were planted for fall grazing, but as pasture inventories dwindled, these acres became part of the late summer grazing plan. Planning to have extra grazing acres with the flexibility of annuals can be a pasture saver in dry years.
This was a year that made for phenomenal first-cutting yields. Solid stands of alfalfa yielded great, but alfalfa with orchardgrass or forage fescue yielded even higher. The diversification of grass in those stands cranks the yield on years with cool, wet springs. This was also true on new seedings, where nurse crops were used. Forage barley and oats seeding at a half rate as a nurse crop with alfalfa really boosted the hay yield. When the markets push high prices of hay, it pays to push for yield on the establishment year of perennials.
Comparing successes from year-to-year and analyzing progress will make your forage planning progress each year. Plan to stay diverse in your crop rotations, ensuring your forage production is adequate no matter the weather that Mother Nature provides.
Photos courtesy Millborn Seeds
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Millborn Seeds, Brookings, S.D.
The team of folks at Millborn Seeds have roots that run deep in farming, agriculture, and in the overall respect for the landscape. They opened their doors in 1987 and continue to walk alongside farmers, ranchers, and landowners across thousands of acres throughout the Midwest.