Important details on small grains

May 10, 2013
by WLJ

While corn and soybeans might get the limelight attention most of the time, don’t overlook the potential of small grains. Able to be sown in corner or small fields, they can be important, if overlooked, feed grains. Small grains can make for good silage, but keep in mind their planting needs.

Wheat and barley are cool-season crops that require relatively cool temperatures to achieve their highest yield potential. Because of the wet spring, many producers will be getting into their fields later than normal, which could cause reduced yields.

“The biggest concern with late planting small-grain crops, such as wheat and barley, is that they will develop when temperatures are warmer than optimum, so yields will be reduced,” says Joel Ransom, North Dakota State University Extension Service agronomist.

The optimum planting dates range from the second week in April in southern counties to the first week May in counties bordering Canada. However, for some regions of the U.S., the optimum planting dates may have past even then, and with the unusually long, cool spring, there may still be opportunities depending upon your area.

“Expect a yield loss of 1.5 percent per day beyond the optimum for wheat and 1.7 percent per day for barley,” Ransom says. “However, if the weather stays cool, there may be little or no yield reduction if planting takes place as soon as fields can be planted.”

When planting is delayed beyond the optimum date, it may be beneficial to increase the seeding rate by 1 percent per day of delay up to a maximum of about 1.7 million seeds. This increase will compensate partially for the decrease in grain yields associated with the reduced tillering that occurs when plants develop in warmer rather than optimum temperatures.

“Though differences in the maturity of commonly grown small-grain varieties are not great, earlier-maturing varieties are recommended for later planting,” Ransom says. “For spring wheat, most varieties from South Dakota (Briggs, Select, Forefront and Brick), along with Glenn, Kelby and RB07, are among the earliest maturing.”

Small grain silage

After the issue of planting is taken care of, small grain silage may be a good option to fill a forage shortage this summer.

With hay and feed supplies being short this spring and the prospect for forage production from range and pasture this summer being below average, small grain silage may be a good option this year. Small grain silage from cereal rye, triticale, barley, wheat, and oats can provide a high quality forage source.

The following are some advantages of harvesting small grain for silage in a year like 2013.

Small grain silage provides a potentially high quality harvested forage resource in late spring and early summer. This may be especially valuable with carry over forage being in such short supply and many cow-calf producers needing to feed cows due to ongoing drought conditions.

A grain crop or annual forage can quickly be planted back into the ground small grain silage is harvested from providing a longer growing season with a second crop.

There is reduced risk of losing the crop to hail or other weather related events when it is harvested as silage.

The current price relationship comparing the value of harvesting the crop for grain and straw or for silage under today’s market conditions may make silage an attractive option. This is especially true for diversified crop/cattle operations where feed is in short supply. — WLJ