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Forage & Cover Crop Options Following Wheat

Winter wheat harvest is starting earlier than normal this year, providing us with more double crop forage options, as well as other cover crop options. This situation asks the question, “do I need more forage, or are my forage inventories more than adequate”.


There are a few double-crop forage options that can provide some inexpensive, good quality haylage or baleage. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, and every situation is different depending on the immediate forage needs for the coming winter and forage quality requirements, as well as timing and rotation. Timely rains after seeding are needed for good growth and yields with all these options. Of course, these forage crops also provide excellent cover crop benefits.

For forage production, the challenge is getting the wheat harvested, the volunteer wheat adequately controlled, and the next crop seeded in a timely manner. An early wheat harvest helps by providing more time. Competition from volunteer wheat can be a significant problem.  A lot of volunteer wheat can result when light grain goes through the combine. A thick, dense stand of wheat (particularly behind the combine swath) will greatly limit the establishment of new forage species. Without vernalization (going through a winter) winter wheat will not form a stem in the fall to provide significant growth and yields are very limited. One approach to reduce the problem is to do some light tillage to encourage the grain to germinate. Some rainfall helps germination. A burndown with glyphosate 7 – 10 days later will remove much of the volunteer grain. Of course this takes time, and as the calendar gets later some options are lost. 


Sorghum-Sudan & Sudangrass

  • when planted early enough, these warm-season annual grasses can provide a cut of high quality forage that will be available this fall

  • growth slows significantly in fall weather with lower temperatures and cooler nights, and it will be killed with frost, so timely early seeding is important

  • depending on the area and weather, these warm season forages should be planted in July or very early August (at least 60 days before frost) – a late planting is much less successful

  • when seeded in a mixture with Italian ryegrass and red or berseem clover, a second cutting of very high quality is possible – the Italian ryegrass and clover can potentially overwinter and can often provide an additional cut next May

  • Refer to “Sudangrass & Sorghum-Sudan Forage Options" 


Oats & Oat-Pea Mixtures

  • these cool-season species are typically harvested at boot-stage about 60 days after planting, enabling additional forage this fall

  • some frost tolerance enables later growth than sorghums

  • does not overwinter - follow by seeding another crop next spring

  • good forage quality potential, depending on the stage at cutting

  • oat crown rust sometimes an issue

  • a mix of 70% forage oats and 30% forage peas, such as QS “Fall Buster”, balances improved forage quality with the increased challenges of harvesting peas in wet fall weather.

  • refer to “Summer Seeding Oats & Oat-Pea Mixtures For Extra Forage" 


QS “Evolution” Italian Ryegrass


  • a cool-season species with high to exceptionally high forage quality (high NDFD, RFQ), palatability and intake suitable for high producing dairy cows

  • a smaller harvest in October followed by a larger harvest next May - can be followed by corn silage, soybeans, sudangrass, or it can continue to be harvested every 28 days next year

  • provides some additional forage this fall as well as next spring

  • refer to “Italian Ryegrass Forage Options”


Annual Ryegrass & Berseem Clover


  • these annual species are noted for fast establishment and early growth

  • suggested seeding rate is 20 – 22 lbs/acre

  • an 80/20 mix of Eco-Brand annual ryegrass and berseem clover is an inexpensive option

  • annual ryegrass will form a stem and a head the year of seeding, so it will provide more fall growth and yield than Italian ryegrass, but not as high a quality


Double Cropping Winter Triticale

  • usually seeded in September and harvested in May

  • does not provide additional forage this fall

  • narrow harvest window (flag-leaf stage) – potential for excellent forage quality depending on the stage at cutting

  • double crop after harvest by following with corn silage, soybeans, or sudangrass, in late-May or early-June

  • refer to “Winter Triticale Forage” 


Summer Seeding Alfalfa  

  • full yield potential the next year without the usual spring seeding establishment year yield loss

  • does not provide extra forage this fall, but increases total yield next year

  • control of volunteer wheat is essential

  • refer to “Summer Seeding Alfalfa Mixtures” 


Cover Crops

  • if additional forage is not required, there are many cover crop options available, depending on what main benefits you are looking for:

  • organic matter, soil tilth, water holding capacity

  • soil health

  • erosion control

  • nitrogen fixation

  • weed control

  • reduced compaction & improved water infiltration

  • nutrient recycling

  • breaking disease & pest cycles

  • commonly used QS cover crop mixtures include oats, Eco-till daikon radish, crimson clover, annual ryegrass, hairy vetch, brassicas and others

  • a burndown of the volunteer wheat is not usually required

  • refer to Quality Seeds Cover Crops 

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