Farm Progress

Many Northeast dairies will sorely need triticale’s feed value to bolster depressed milk production due to poor corn silage quality.

John Vogel, Editor, American Agriculturist

August 24, 2017

3 Min Read
TRITICALE: This high-energy cross between wheat and rye can be ready for early-spring silage harvest.

As Tom Kilcer loves to say, triticale is one of the fall-seeded, double-cropped forages dairy cows love, especially if you may need early-spring forage (see story on triticale). Many dairy farms will need that high-quality feed to bolster depressed milk production due to less-than-high-quality corn silage harvested this fall.

If you want to harvest 6 to 10 tons per acre of high-quality silage before spring grasses or legumes are ready, don’t treat it as a minimally managed cover crop, stresses Kilcer of Advanced Ag Systems at Kinderhook, N.Y. Here are five crucial steps from this certified crop adviser to achieve success with the winter forage crop:

1. Use only quality seed
You don’t know what you’re getting with bin-run seed, he warns. Germination rate depends on how it was dried.

“Like buying a steer to breed cows, buying bin run may not even get out of the ground. And I’ve looked at bin-run fields that were more downy brome and annual ryegrass than grain,” adds Kilcer. “Even worse, if it’s a mix of rye grain and triticale grain, do you cut when the rye is peak quality and take a 35% yield hit on the triticale? Or do you cut when the triticale is optimum yield and quality, and lose 20% to 30% dry matter due to rye straw?”

Spend slightly more and plant good seed. He recommends 100 pounds of seed per acre.

2. Earlier planting produces higher yields
The best management practice is to plant winter triticale 10 days to two weeks before your local wheat planting date. It’s more critical as you go farther north where winter comes swiftly.

Early planting maximizes tillering. The more tillers, the more potential mature stems next spring. That means more potential forage grain yield. Southern areas have a fall with long periods of temperatures in the range for optimum tillering of winter grains and higher yields.

In Kilcer’s replicated trials, planting on Sept. 10 yielded 32% more than on Oct. 5. If your corn harvest is delayed, you can still plant into October. But recognize that yields will be down compared to timely planting.

Planting late with more seed doesn’t work. Even planting late at higher seeding rates produced no significant yield increase.

Early planting also gets the jump on weeds, smothering them as they emerge, he points out, which may completely eliminate the need for a fall herbicide. It also established better roots and more leaves to protect the plant crown and resist heaving and snow mold damage.

3. Capture more water and soil nutrients
This crop allows environmentally sound, incorporated manure applications during early fall, plus minimizes ground and surface water losses. Early fall planting generates more vegetative growth and takes up and stores more nitrogen (residual or manure).

Another bonus, Kilcer contends, is that it can potentially reduce nitrogen needed to grow the crop the next spring. “Without fall manure, we suggest 40 to 60 pounds of N per acre for early planting. Late planting (wheat date or later) needs none.”

4. Drill seed; don’t broadcast
Drill triticale 1.25 inches deep. Broadcasting and disk incorporation invites poor stands and lower yields. Accurate seed placement and depth grows more critical the farther north you plant and on wetter soils due to spring heaving and winter kill.

Triticale is winter-hardy if planted correctly. Remember, you’re not planting a cover crop. You’re planting a high-yield crop that with proper management produces the highest-quality forage you can grow and feed.

5. Adjust 2018 corn maturity for triticale
When you select seed corn this fall, adjust for a shorter-season crop to allow maximum yield of both the corn and the winter forage crop. You can drop 20 days in maturity and may only lose 3 tons of corn silage per acre. Yet, it’ll be replaced with 5.5 to 10 tons of higher milk-producing winter forage.

Adapted from Kilcer’s Advanced Ag Systems newsletter

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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