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Brian Smith kneeling in winter wheat field
TWO CROPS: Brian Smith, shown here in a winter wheat field, regularly double crops soybeans or forage sorghum after chopping winter rye in May or early June for feed.

Stacking forages for more tons

South Dakota grower follows winter rye chopped for feed with soybeans or forage sorghum.

Each year, Brian Smith usually harvests two different crops from the same field. It’s double cropping — Dakota style.

Smith — who farms with his wife, Stephanie, and parents, Paul and Bonnie, near Montrose, S.D. — grows corn for grain, corn for silage, soybeans, winter wheat, alfalfa, winter rye and sorghum sudangrass. He also custom feeds dairy heifers.

After harvesting winter wheat for grain or chopping corn for corn silage, Smith will often plant cover crops or winter rye. The winter rye gets a good start in the fall, will stay alive in the winter and grow rapidly in the early spring. Smith typically chops the rye from mid-May to the first week of June and then will plant forage sorghum or soybeans.

Soybeans will work okay if planted from mid-May to the first or second week of June. In mid-May he can use a group 2 maturity soybean. In late May or early June, he may select a group 1 maturity bean. He’ll harvest the soybeans for grain in the fall.

Forage sorghum is the choice when he can’t plant the second crop until the middle of June. He’ll chop it for silage in the fall.

Smith typically is able to put up 6 to 7 tons of wet ryelage and harvest normal yields of soybeans.

“We have seen no yield drag or as much as a 15-bushel yield drag when double cropping soybeans, depending on moisture,” he says.

Sorghum yields have been anywhere from 13 to 20 tons per acre wet.

The Dakota-style double cropping — also called “stacking forages” — works out pretty well, Smith says.

Because they feed Holstein heifers, the Smiths use a lot of straw and forage in total mixed rations. They bed with straw, too.

“It is pretty expensive to buy all the straw and forage we need,” Smith says. “Raising more of it ourselves is more economical.”

Stacking forages has helped them justify growing winter wheat, too, even though winter wheat isn’t usually their most profitable crop. But it provides them with the straw they need and allows them to plant a multi-species blend of cover crops after harvest. They graze the cover crops in the fall. They get soil health benefits to boot. Having cereals and cover crops in their rotation boosts corn and soybeans yields, reduces weed pressure, breaks insect cycles, eliminates hosts for plant diseases and feeds the soil microorganisms.

Others doing it

Stacking forage crops isn’t a new concept in eastern South Dakota. Several dairies in the I-29 Corridor plant winter rye and other hardy cereals after chopping corn silage or harvesting soybeans.

“I know one dairy producer who plants triticale after chopping corn silage,” says Anthony Bly, South Dakota State University Extension soil health specialist, Sioux Falls.

The idea is to match up warm and cool season species with the planting window. Sorghum sudan, millets, cow peas, sun hemp and soybeans are some of the warm season species that can be used in double crop or stacked forage situations, especially after harvesting winter wheat, rye or triticale in the spring, he says.

Cool season species include field peas, clovers, oats, barley, lentils, ryegrass, vetch, flax, radishes, turnips, camelina, canola and mustards.

Plant the warm season covers between May and August and cool season during other months. A blend of cool and warm season covers are good if you want to continue the growth of the cover crop across all of the seasons.

If you want a winter annual and a living root the next spring, then put in a winter wheat, cereal rye or triticale, Bly advises.

You can turn the stacking concept around, too. You can follow all of the cereal grains with a forage cover crop that can be grazed, baled or chopped in the fall.

“You could also plant oat/field pea mix in the spring, chop and follow it with soybeans or another forage crop,” Bly suggests.

There are many interesting possibilities to consider, Bly concludes. “Stacking forages is a good tool.”

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