As the wet spring becomes a wet summer, Ohio State agronomists have been sharing resources and information for late summer planting alternatives. This article has been adapted from several articles in the Ohio State Agronomic Crops newsletter (C.O.R.N.) and elsewhere as noted.
2019 Challenge: Forage Production Options for Ohio
Across Ohio, farmers are facing challenges unimagined just four months ago. Widespread loss of established alfalfa stands coupled with delayed or impossible planting conditions for other crops leave many farmers, their agronomists and nutritionists wondering what crops can produce reasonable amounts of quality forage yet this year. In addition, frequent and heavy rains are preventing harvest of forages that did survive the winter and are causing further deterioration of those stands.
Mark Sulc, OSU Extension Forage Agronomist and Bill Weiss, OSU Extension Dairy Nutritionist, help address this forage dilemma. If one is looking for quality and quantity, what are your best options? The article starts with a quick summary of options and then dig into some of the pros and cons of these options (listed in no particular order of preference).
Recommendations from 2015 (another wet spring): https://agcrops.osu.edu/newsletter/corn-newsletter/2015-22/supplemental-forage-options-late-summer-early-autumn-planting
Keeping Livestock Nourished Despite Hay Shortages https://cfaes.osu.edu/news/articles/keeping-livestock-nourished-despite-hay-shortage
Farmers prevented from planting a cash crop due to unrelenting rain can now sow a cover crop and still be eligible to receive some federal trade assistance. This aid is in addition to crop insurance payments on those acres, but farmers should consult with their insurance agent to see if using a cover crop as forage will affect any current or future insurance payments on prevented plant acres.
Soybeans and corn have been discussed as possible cover crops for prevented plantings. Due to the large number of missed planting dates across the state, seed supplies for several typical cover crop alternatives may become limited.
Corn as a Cover Crop
Based on information from across the Corn Belt, including states where they have more experience with delayed planting of corn (University of Wisconsin - http://wisccorn.blogspot.com/2019/06/B102.html) and Iowa State University - https://crops.extension.iastate.edu/cropnews/2019/05/cover-crop-options-prevented-planting-fields), these are our best recommendations for using corn as a cover crop.
Although the yield potential of corn planted in July for grain and silage is very low, corn makes an excellent "emergency" forage when planted in July. Moreover, unlike some other forage crops, Ohio producers know how to grow it. As a cover crop, corn can establish a canopy rapidly. It has a deep root system that is highly effective in scavenging nutrients. Even when planted as late as July, it can produce a significant residue.
To optimize the use of corn as a cover crop, consider the following agronomic practices.
- Plant corn at a higher seeding rate than normal: 40,000 seeds per acre or greater and in narrow rows (22-inch row spacing or less). This will promote canopy closure and result in better erosion and weed control (OSU Agronomy Guide, 15th edition
- If corn planted in July as a cover crop produces seed, grain produced cannot be harvested (or it won't be considered a cover crop).
- Corn seeded as a cover crop on Prevented Planting acres may be hayed, grazed, or chopped on or after September 1 for 2019 - https://www.rma.usda.gov/News-Room/Press/Press-Releases/2019-News/RMA-Announces-Change-to-Haying-and-Grazing-Date (URL verified 6-25-2019).
- Reduce tillage as much as possible to ensure soil moisture necessary for germination and to reduce erosion potential while the cover crop develops.
Soybeans as a Cover Crop
To optimize the use of soybean as a cover crop, consider the following:
- Planting dates. USDA NRCS cover crop practice guidelines state that soybean should be planted between June 15 and August 15 in northern Ohio and June 1 and August 30 in southern Ohio.
- Plant in narrow rows. The USDA NRCS cover crop practice guidelines do not specify a row width for a soybean cover crop, but planting in less than 30-inch rows will maximize ground cover and improve weed suppression.
- Seeding rate. USDA NRCS cover crop guidelines indicate that soybean should be seeded at 54 lb/acre if to be planted as a pure stand (100% soybean) cover crop. At a seed size of 2,800 seeds/lb, this would be a seeding rate of ~151,000 seeds/acre. Higher rates may be used; however, seed treatment labels may limit the amount of active ingredient per acre which can impact upper seeding rate limits.
- Check your license agreement and talk with your seed dealer. Most trait licenses have a clause stating that the crop can be used for “one commercial crop.” You will want to verify with your seed dealer that the cover crop represents a commercial crop prior to planting.