US - Growing winter annuals on cropland for baling can provide a sustainable forage source, improving soil and saving several thousands of dollars, farmers in the southern US are hearing.
Following row crops with wheat, rye or rye grass cover crops can be worth $263 per acre, a three year study at the University of Georgia (UG) has found.
And through baling the resultant forage, a “complete diet” can be provided, while soil organic matter is improved by reducing moisture and nutrient loss.
Trialled on farms across Wayne County, “Double crop baleage” has been a major benefit to mixed cattle and crop operations in the state.
However, the economic advantage of double cropping is hugely dependent on the operation. “With a small number of cows, it’s hard to justify doing this,” said UG economist Curt Lacy. “If they have fewer cattle, they can look at buying baleage wrapped or having someone do it for them if they can’t buy the equipment.”
But while the system works in America’s south, government advisors north of the border in Canada also recommend seeding crops like rye as an “excellent, cheap source of additional feed”.
“Fall rye can be used as an excellent emergency forage crop, by seeding after early-fall harvested crops and making haylage, or by grazing in the spring,” advises the Ontario farm ministry.
Care should be taken at cutting though. Fall rye has a narrow optimal harvest window, usually in mid-May for southern Ontario, working best after being sown as early as possible in September.
A mere few days can have massive impact on quality, the ministry advises. Those wishing to sell bales to dairy or sheep farmers will struggle to obtain sufficient neutral detergent fibre after the early-boot stage.
Other options include grazing fall rye, which is often best done through strip grazing to prevent the plant becoming too mature.
Ontario producers are advised to glyphosate rye to minimise competition for moisture on the resultant crop. Subsequent crops are best suited if they are late-planted, such as soybeans, edible beans, sorghum or other warm-season annuals.
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