Evaluating cereal forages from fall to spring – Pat Hoffman, Vita Plus
The 2017 growing season could probably best be described as neurotic. In much of the Vita Plus region, spring planting was delayed by cool, wet weather, followed by a half-summer, and then, thankfully, an extended, warm fall. The weather allowed us to make most corn silage prior to a killing frost, and it still left a little room to make high moisture corn. However, not only were many manure applications delayed, but planting of winter cereal forages, such as winter triticale and winter rye, was also delayed or not accomplished.
As such, I heard a lot of questions about winter cereal forages. “How late can these winter cereals be planted?” “My winter rye is just barely out of the ground—will it make it?” Here are some tips to evaluate your winter cereal crops.
The later winter rye gets planted, the lower the spring forage yield. This has been demonstrated in numerous research plots. Winter triticale seems to be a bit more resilient to fall planting dates, but very few research trials exist to compare some of the extreme late planting dates we observed this fall. However, winter cereal crops are rather resilient plants.
What makes winter rye or winter triticale tick is a process called vernalization. During cold acclimation, winter rye and triticale withstand freezing temperatures for extended periods of time. They require a period of exposure to cool temperatures to initiate reproductive development. Winter cereal forages need temperatures near 40 degrees F for at least three weeks to initiate vernalization, although the exact temperature and time period required varies by cereal type and variety.
Here is a fun trivia fact. Seeds of winter cereal crops do not have to emerge to go through vernalization. The only thing required is for the seed to absorb moisture and sprout, followed by exposure to cool temperatures for the required period of time. So, in some ways, don’t give up hope on these crops even though they may have barely emerged this fall. Yes, their spring forages yield potential may be compromised, but a spring crop is still possible.
Spring evaluations of these crops are relatively simple. In general, evaluate the extent of ground cover next spring. If less than 50 percent of the ground is covered, perhaps proceed to a manure application and plant a spring forage crop, such as oats or corn. If greater than 50 percent of the ground is covered, you may have enough yield potential to delay corn planting, harvest the forage mid-May, and then plant corn, soybeans, or another forage crop of your choice.
No real guidelines for winter cereal crops exist, so we use common sense and proceed accordingly. Whatever the outcome, any amount of spring forage growth still serves as a nutrient sink and provides some ground cover, which is always a good thing.