Extremely wet conditions in northeast and north central South Dakota have prompted many producers to consider late season forage options. Producers have been unable to get corn or soybean crops planted on some of these acres due to excessive moisture. In many instances, Prevent Plant Insurance has limited some of the secondary options producers might consider for those acres. Additionally, some of these soils tend to be fairly alkaline which further limits forage options. Even though there are confounding factors in these situations, there are still forage options for producers to exercise under a variety of different circumstances. Figure 1 will help simplify the different forage options for saturated soils.
Hay or graze?
The first thing a producer needs to decide is whether grazing is an option. Many fields aren’t fenced, have no available water, or just aren’t that convenient for grazing. Obviously hay would then be a much better option for that scenario.
Some forages are much better suited to grazing than haying. Sorghums, sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids, and cover crops (e.g., turnips, radishes, lentils, etc.), are generally much better suited for grazing than haying because of the high yields and difficulty in getting these forages dried in a windrow. Harvesting these forages on the hoof is typically a much easier endeavor.
Conversely, cereal grains, millet, cover crops and annual ryegrass are suited to either haying or grazing. These forages are all excellent for grazing and typically are easier to get dried in a windrow and make good hay for livestock.
Prevent plant insurance?
Prevent plant insurance is probably going to be the deciding factor for many producers as this will determine which forage will work for their situation and which forages won’t.
Prevent plant insurance restricts planting forages for harvest, therefore, the most legitimate forage for producers restricted by prevent plant insurance is probably a cover crop mixture. This mixture can contain a variety of brassica species (turnips, radishes, lentils, etc.), cereal grain species, and/or summer annual species. Planting this type of crop can help suppress weeds and soak up excess moisture but doesn’t leave an excessive amount of residue to contend with next spring.
Another key factor producers should consider when looking at forage options is alkalinity. The important thing is not to over analyze alkalinity situations. Slightly alkaline soils are not going to make a tremendous difference on the yield of most forage crops, especially in this situation where absolute maximum yield is not the most important issue.
Strongly alkaline soils however, can cause germination problems as well as yield drag in forage crops. Therefore, if soils are more towards the strongly alkaline (pH >8.0), planting forage barley is going to be the best option. Barley is pretty tolerant of alkaline conditions and should do pretty well in these types of soils.
Some producers may just want some vegetation cover on these types of acres to suppress weeds. They may not necessarily be interested in hay or grazing and don’t want a bunch of tall, standing residual to contend with next spring. In this case, cover crops will meet this type of objective at a very reasonable cost.