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Montana Researchers Outline Guidelines for Cereal Forage Nitrogen

Montana Researchers Outline Guidelines for Cereal Forage Nitrogen

Cereal crops offer valuable grazing opportunities, Montana researchers believe.

Cereal grains such as wheat and barley are viable alternative hay crops and can provide valuable grazing opportunities, report USDA researchers.

Due to drought resistance, good yields and ability to break pest cycles of perennial crops, annual forages can be a good fit in the northern Great Plains production system, they say.

An ongoing study provides preliminary nitrogen guidelines for some annual forage crops in Montana.

"In the most recent year with collected data (2008), approximately 200,000 acres of cereal forages were grown in Montana, making it the fourth largest acreage crop," reports Andy Lenssen, research ecologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Research Service in Sidney, Mont.

However, there is a lack of Montana fertilizer nitrogen guidelines for such crops. Insufficient N availability can decrease forage yield, increase producer costs and decrease potential profit.

On the other hand, too much N combined with inadequate available soil water       can cause the forage to contain nitrates at levels toxic to livestock.

In a multi-year study funded by the Montana Fertilizer Advisory Committee, development of guidelines is under way for forage barley and winter wheat nitrogen use.

Field trials are being conducted with Hays variety barley planted in April, and Willow Creek winter wheat planted in September at a farm near Froid and at the Southern Agricultural Research Center in Huntley.

"Dryland forage yields over the past two years have been good, ranging from                        one to four   tons per acre for Hays barley, and as much as five tons per acre for Willow Creek winter wheat," says Lenssen.

At Froid, the available nitrogen – fertilizer N plus soil nitrate-nitrogen – needed to maximize yields ranged from about 27 pounds of N per ton of winter wheat when based on soil sampling to a depth of two feet, to 37 pounds of N per ton of soil when sampled to three feet.

Hays barley required an average of 60 pounds of nitrogen per ton in a two-foot soil dept sample.


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