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Feed shortages next spring can be averted by drilling these ryegrass and/or cover crops early this fall.

John Vogel, Editor, American Agriculturist

August 12, 2016

2 Min Read

Grasses and cover crops seeded in September can provide valuable forage next spring — especially if you’re facing a potential forage inventory shortfall due to this summer’s dry weather. Take a look at the yields and quality Penn State University researchers have been getting with grasses and cover crops planted in September.

In many parts of the Northeast, alfalfa and grass seeded in April and early May resulted in very poor stands due to spring’s prolonged cold spell, says William Boone, forage variety testing manager at Penn State University. Then came the dry spell and very warm temperatures, further reducing potential forage yields.

What to do now

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If you’re hoping to get an extra boost next spring, cool-season forage crops may offer a critical boost to your forage needs. Penn State’s forage variety trials program has been conducting a short-lived grass and cover crops trial for several years. The window for planting is following corn silage harvest — mid-September in central Pennsylvania.

The trial consists of many varieties of annual ryegrass, triticale and some cover crop mixes. “We’ve consistently seen excellent yields and very good quality in this trial,” notes Boone.

The ryegrass is managed using a single or multicut system. Varieties in the multicut system are cut three times. The first cutting is when the plants reach approximately 20 inches or the flag leaf stage, typically around May 1. That first harvest average is about 2.6 tons of dry matter per acre. Subsequent cuts are made every three weeks. This spring, the combined average yield for the three cuts was 5.2 tons DM per acre.

Ryegrass managed using the single-cut system is cut only once at the early- to mid-boot stage, before seed head emergence. That’s about May 11 to May 16. The average yield this season was 4 tons DM per acre, he says.

The triticale-rye mix also performed consistently well. This season’s average was 3.5 tons per acre with average harvest dates between April 29 and May 11.

The value-added benefits of cover crops and cover crop mixes — soil enrichment and protection plus increased biodiversity — are important to many growers. This can be achieved along with a high-quality yield, adds the research agronomist. To see how the latest varieties stacked up, check out extension.psu.edu/plants/crops/forages/species/forage-variety.

About the Author(s)

John Vogel

Editor, American Agriculturist

For more than 38 years, John Vogel has been a Farm Progress editor writing for farmers from the Dakota prairies to the Eastern shores. Since 1985, he's been the editor of American Agriculturist – successor of three other Northeast magazines.

Raised on a grain and beef farm, he double-majored in Animal Science and Ag Journalism at Iowa State. His passion for helping farmers and farm management skills led to his family farm's first 209-bushel corn yield average in 1989.

John's personal and professional missions are an integral part of American Agriculturist's mission: To anticipate and explore tomorrow's farming needs and encourage positive change to keep family, profit and pride in farming.

John co-founded Pennsylvania Farm Link, a non-profit dedicated to helping young farmers start farming. It was responsible for creating three innovative state-supported low-interest loan programs and two "Farms for the Future" conferences.

His publications have received countless awards, including the 2000 Folio "Gold Award" for editorial excellence, the 2001 and 2008 National Association of Ag Journalists' Mackiewicz Award, several American Agricultural Editors' "Oscars" plus many ag media awards from the New York State Agricultural Society.

Vogel is a three-time winner of the Northeast Farm Communicators' Farm Communicator of the Year award. He's a National 4-H Foundation Distinguished Alumni and an honorary member of Alpha Zeta, and board member of Christian Farmers Outreach.

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