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There are several options to consider; think of what works best on your farm.

Tom Kilcer

May 10, 2023

5 Min Read
winter triticale stubble
TRITICALE STUBBLE: Winter triticale stubble is an excellent medium to plant the next crop no-till into. Photos courtesy of Tom Kilcer

More farmers have added winter forage to their crop rotation schedule, including some who have eliminated alfalfa completely.

The beauty of using winter forage is that your options are open to whatever fits your farm best, and there is 60% less moisture under a harvested winter forage than under bare soil, so you can safely traffic these fields during a wet spring.

A farmer I know got his corn planted in winter forage stubble during a wet spring, but had to wait for his non-winter forage ground to dry out.

During dry springs (probably not this one), the soil could be in excellent shape for deep-zone tillage to start removing the compaction that might have limited your yields.

Before I get into the steps for success, there is one key point you should remember: Do not mess around with planting your next crop into winter forage stubble while your haylage is getting past its prime. If you are growing cool-season grass or grass alfalfa, the next step is to get your haylage in as it is ready a day or two after winter forage.

If you grow just straight alfalfa, you may have time between planting your next crop and harvesting the alfalfa.

Don’t remove the stubble

The first step is to not remove the forage stubble or till the field. You have an excellent cover with roots that go 6 to 16 inches deep. This channels water and oxygen into the soil for maximum root growth.

Those who have chiseled or, even worse, disked winter forage stubble have realized they made a mess of softball lumps where the soil originally was. It takes a lot of work to beat these into a smooth seedbed again.

Winter forage leaves soil in excellent shape for no-till.

Corn, soybeans are good bets

One of the simplest crops is to no-till soybeans into the stubble. Allelopathy has no effect on soybeans and other legumes, and the warm, moist soil surface allows for rapid germination and emergence.

The allelopathy helps the herbicide by keeping most weeds from growing for most of the season. Soybeans have done well for me in this rotation with the early planting date maximizing yield.

Another crop that works well is no-tilling corn. There is no residue for slugs to hide, yet the stubble and massive root system nearly eliminates erosion.

Try using a floating clearing coulter to remove a half-inch of soil that has the allelopathic compounds so the corn will grow better.

A note of caution: If you did not add manure and shorted the winter forage on nitrogen, the soil will be depleted of N and the corn will grow slowly and will be light green or yellow. Adding 20 pounds of pop-up N with the seed can eliminate this slow growth drag.

A better method is to inject manure into 30-inch centers right where you are going to plant. Quirine Ketterings, who leads the Cornell Spear Program, has researched this and has found that, in most cases, all the fertilizer needs for the crop could be met.

I prefer a rolling coulter-type manure injector over the knife-type as it takes much less horsepower, and there is less soil disturbance to bring up stones.

Coming back a day or two later — to let the manure soak into the profile — with the planter allows the plant to quickly access the nutrients in the manure. This may take a little longer, but you are saving $120 to $150 an acre of N at $1 per pound. You are also saving even more on phosphorous and potassium as the manure has plenty to meet your crops’ needs.

Seed a legume

One of the most popular crop rotations farmers are adopting is to use the winter forage as a setup for seeding a legume.

Traditionally, legume seedings are done as early as possible in spring to benefit from the spring rains. Unfortunately, at that time of year, on the first nice day you are a week behind with fieldwork, and on the second nice day you are two weeks behind. Adding insult to injury is that the cool, damp conditions of early spring are perfect for damping off and for the development of other fungal seedling diseases.

If you plant all your legume seedings no-till into winter forage after haylage is complete, this will balance the workload out. Our surprise when we first tried this is that we got better and thicker stands than when we planted in early spring.

First, the soil is warmer, and the plants germinate and emerge quickly. Second, conventionally tilled seedings allow the drying wind to reach right to the surface. If the top inch of soil is dried out, the tiny plant with an inch-long root will suffer or die. With a 3-inch stubble, the wind is kept off the soil surface, so the soil is moist right to the top.

When it rains, the stubble captures the moisture and channels it into the soil surface. The stubble then conserves that moisture for the tiny plants.

I know a farmer who had 60 acres that he tilled, limed-worked into a smooth seedbed and planted to alfalfa in early April. Across the road, he had 50 acres of triticale that he harvested and then no-tilled the beginning of June.

In late June, he got several inches of rain in about 15 minutes. The conventionally planted field was an eroded disaster with gullies, stones on top and plants completely washed out. Across the road, the 50 acres that he no-tilled into winter forage looked perfect, with no loss. Winter forage stubble is an excellent erosion control.

Consider sorghum

A new crop in the mix was added because its season matches that of winter triticale very well. That new crop is BMR forage sorghum.

No sorghum likes to be planted no-till into winter forage stubble. Applying broadcast manure and immediately incorporating it will both capture the 75% of nitrogen normally lost, and it will break up the allelopathic compounds that inhibit the growth of the sorghum species planted after.

The reverse, planting triticale no-till into sorghum stubble, also works very well.

Kilcer is a certified crop adviser in Rutledge, Tenn., formerly of Kinderhook, N.Y.

About the Author(s)

Tom Kilcer

Tom Kilcer is a certified crop adviser in Kinderhook, N.Y.

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