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June 18, 2002

Purdue agronomist says farmers not out of planting options yet

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Although it may not be corn, soybeans or alfalfa, farmers still have the opportunity to put seed in the ground for a cover crop yet this spring, said a Purdue University agronomist.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers taking the prevented planting payment on their land can plant annual, biennial or perennial grasses and legumes as a cover crop. Small grains, such as barley, oats, rice and wheat, also are acceptable as long as they are not harvested for grain or seed. The crop should be planted for erosion control, hay, chopped silage or grazing and left for only one season.

"This opportunity keeps the land under cover with a more desirable crop than weeds," said Keith Johnson, Purdue Extension forage specialist. "Fields left fallow will have weeds that need to be controlled in some facet, and if that is done via tillage, then the landscape is vulnerable to erosion."

Johnson said summer-annual grasses, such as sudangrass, sorghum-sudangrass and pearl millet, are alternative forages farmers can seed. These warm-season annual grasses produce high yield and grow rapidly during late spring and summer. These grasses do have high moisture content, which makes it harder to bale into hay, but it can be made into silage, he said.

"The quality of sorghum-sudangrass and pearl millet for the purposes of livestock feed are certainly not going to be the quality associated with corn silage or alfalfa," Johnson said. "They are going to be better than mature cool-season grasses. These will work well with cow-calf situations, dry ewes and replacement heifers, but we recommend farmers analyze and supplement these crops as needed."

Since planting was pushed back for many farmers who grow corn for silage, harvest will be later as well. Johnson said it is critical to inventory silage now to see if some of the summer-annual grasses, which are harvested a month to six weeks earlier than corn, could be a good alternative crop for silage.

If farmers can seed summer-annual grasses by the end of June, Johnson said they will be ready for the first cutting in late July or early August and for a second cutting a month later. After an August cutting is made, Johnson said alfalfa could be seeded to establish the hay crop for 2003. Specific forage and grass seeding rates are listed in the Purdue agronomy publication AY-263 on the Web at http://www.ces.purdue.edu/extmedia/AY/AY-263.html.

Provided the crop gets up and going, two harvests from these summer grasses can be cost-effective, Johnson said. However, farmers need to think about seed, nitrogen and machinery costs.

"Hay in the state of Indiana is certainly not in a deficit or severe shortage situation," Johnson said. "One might more easily go out and tap into the marketplace and know what the quality of the hay crop being purchased is compared to taking on the additional risk of planting a forage for the purposes of harvesting it."

Forage practices that farmers need to be doing now are scouting for potato leafhopper and following up with proper fertilization, Johnson said. He also said hay baling needs to be done at the proper moisture to reduce the chance of loss due to mold.

Writer: Jennifer Doup, (765) 494-6682, doupj@purdue.edu

Source: Keith Johnson, (765) 494-4800, johnsonk@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, bforbes@aes.purdue.edu; http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/AgComm/public/agnews/

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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