By Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin
With reports of significant alfalfa stand damage due to winterkill after a year of drought and tight forage inventories, farmers may need to consider alternative crops to provide much needed forage earlier in the season. Alfalfa, oat, and pea seeds may already be in short supply.
Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin-Extension forage agronomist at UW-Madison, provides information on alternative crops that may offer options for dairy farmers in need of forages.
"Alfalfa is still the best choice, in most cases, for long term production of high quality, high tonnage harvested forage," Undersander said. "This year we also expect to see increased use of corn silage, where topography and farm plans permit in dairy rations, in the alfalfa-based rations."
While grasses can produce high quality forage well in grazing systems, they tend to be high in fiber when allowed to grow to higher yields for harvest as hay or haylage. The high fiber will restrict animal intake in dairy rations. Other legumes, while providing good forage quality, tend to be lower yielding than alfalfa.
Undersander states, "Generally, the options at this point are:
1) Keep alfalfa and overseed Italian ryegrass immediately to increase first cutting yield, then kill stand and plant corn for silage.
2) Immediately plant corn for silage.
3) Plant oats with peas for early season yield (mid July) followed by oats replanted in August."
More information can be found on alternative crops for forage at: http://www.uwex.edu/ces/forage/pubs/altcrp.pdf
Paul Mitchell, UW-Madison Agriculture and Applied Economics professor and UW-Extension crop insurance specialist reminds farmers that these options may also have crop insurance implications.
"Those who bought crop insurance by the March 15 deadline should note that crop acres planted after an early forage harvest will likely not be insurable, though your other corn and soybean acres will still be insured," Mitchell said.
Farmers are urged to check with their crop insurance agents to clarify which acres will be insured if they are considering any of these options or considering an alternative forage plan they have not combined with crop insurance in the past.
For more information on assessing alfalfa winterkill, alternative forages and other resources addressing drought impacts in Wisconsin go to the Extension Responds to Drought webpage: http://fyi.uwex.edu/drought2012/
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