The USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) issued a rule exception on June 20 that allows a forage harvest of cover crops planted on prevented plant acres after September 1 instead of November 1. Much thought and discussion has been devoted to developing cover crop lists and planting recommendations to take advantage of this exception. The OSU Extension agronomic crops team worked with Extension specialists and Extension educators to develop some articles that outline possible options, along with special considerations and caveats. Those articles are on-line with the June 25 version (issue 19) of the CORN newsletter at https://agcrops.osu.edu/newsletter/corn-newsletter. I can also provide those articles in hard copy to anyone who needs them.
While warm season forages such as sorghum x sudangrass, forage sorghum, sudangrass, and pearl millet all work well given a September 1 and later harvest date, the reality is that seed supplies appear to be exhausted so this is not an option anymore unless you have seed on hand. I believe the next best cover crop options on prevented plant acres are spring oats, annual ryegrass (Italian ryegrass), spring triticale or wheat, corn, and soybeans. Each has advantages as well as management considerations.
We have a lot of experience and information regarding spring oats as a forage in Ohio. A number of articles about using oats as a forage crop are posted on the OSU Extension Beef team web site at http://u.osu.edu/beef/?s=oats. It is not necessary to use certified seed oats. Bin run or feed grade oats will work fine. The key is planting oats in late July to early August so that it stays vegetative and acts like a forage crop and not a grain crop. Seed supply is not an issue given that most feed oats actually come out of Canada. While oats is the preferred cereal grain, other spring cereals like spring triticale or wheat can also work, and will yield more than a winter cereal grain.
Although not for everyone, Italian ryegrass, an annual ryegrass, may be a good fit in some situations. Planted in early to mid-August, expected yields are in the 1.0 to 1.5 tons of dry matter by mid-October with the potential to produce up to another 3.0 tons of dry matter next spring. This option could work well in fields with an intended rotation into corn for silage or soybeans in 2020.
Corn is an approved cover crop for silage harvest. The RMA has said that in 2019, the cover crop may be the same crop prevented from planting, while retaining eligibility for a prevented planting payment. The cover crop planted cannot be harvested for seed or grain.
From an agronomic standpoint, planting in rows narrower than 30 inches is advantageous to get quicker canopy closure and prevent/limit weed growth. Boosting plant populations above conventional populations will produce more forage tonnage. Recognize that corn planted this late will not produce corn silage. It will be a grass silage and harvesting at a moisture content of 60 to 65% will be a challenge. Seed companies have confirmed corn hybrids with approved GM traits have full approval for silage use.
Soybeans can produce a good quality forage when harvested at the early reproductive stages of growth, at R-5 or before. The recommendation is to increase plant population when used for this purpose. The issue at the time of this writing is that soybean seed treatments have per acre allowances that will limit plant population and a bigger issue is that those seed treatments may prohibit use of soybeans as a forage.
The actual specifics of using corn and/or soybeans as a cover crop option will depend upon conversations with your crop insurance agent, make sure you have all conditions spelled out and documented.
Rory Lewandowski is an OSU Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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