Time to Harvest Forages on PP Acres

What to Consider When Choosing Cover Crop Harvest Method

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Forages such as this sorghum-sudangrass that farmers seeded on prevented planting acres this year can now be harvested. There are different ways this task can be accomplished. Which one you pick depends on your own farming operation, according to experts. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

OMAHA (DTN) -- With the arrival of September, farmers have the option to graze or harvest forages they seeded on prevented planting acres this year. The question many farmers face is how best to harvest these forages.

In June, USDA's Risk Management Agency changed the rules for when farmers who planted cover crops on prevented planting acres were permitted to hay, graze or chop those fields. Previously, farmers were not allowed to hay or graze until after Nov. 1. RMA moved that date up to Sept. 1 for this year.

There are different strategies to employ when it comes to harvesting forage crops on prevented planting acres, according to experts. Which one you pick depends on your farming operation's needs.


When it comes to harvesting forages on prevented planting acres, there are three main options: grazing, putting up the forage wet or putting up dry hay.

Each option has its own advantages and challenges, according to Aaron Saeugling, Iowa State University Extension field agronomist for southwestern Iowa. His region saw thousands of acres flooded out from Missouri River flooding that began in March and continues today with breaches in levees in northwest Missouri.

While he isn't certain of the exact number, Saeugling said his impression is that not many acres in the flooded Missouri River bottoms got planted to forage crops. Some fields had standing water for most of the summer, while others were still too wet even with no visible water.

Those who could seed a forage crop on these acres had several different options. DTN wrote about this issue last spring: (https://www.dtnpf.com/…).

On those prevented planting acres that did get seeded to forage crops, now is the time to harvest those crops, he said, since RMA adjusted the final haying and grazing date to Sept. 1. The change will help those who want to produce quality forage utilize the crop.

"I must commend RMA for moving the dates up for producers," Saeugling told DTN. "Hopefully, they will decide to keep these dates in the future."


Saeugling said his top option for utilizing forages on prevented planting acres would be grazing. There would, of course, be some considerations for fencing and watering needs, he said. But allowing cattle to harvest the forage themselves is the most cost-effective way to harvest forage, he said.

An issue with grazing would be livestock trampling a good portion of the forage. Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension forage specialist, wrote in a recent news release (https://beef.unl.edu/…) that while grazing may be good for the soil, quite a bit of feed is lost.

"Allowing access to just a small portion of the field by strip grazing will get much more of the forage eaten rather than trampled," Anderson wrote. "Windrowing first and then strip grazing may work even better."


Saeugling said another option to consider when harvesting forage on prevented planting acres would be to harvest the forage in a wet form. This could be chopped as silage and stored in a bunker or a silo, or it could even be something like baleage, he said.

When harvesting sudans and sorghums, the best option could be baleage, according to Anderson. Using plastic-wrapped bales with around 50% moisture could save a week of drying time, reducing the weather risk.

There are issues to consider with baleage as well. One must have access to the wrapping equipment or have a nearby custom operator, Anderson said.

"But if it's available, it should be considered," he wrote.


The final method of harvesting forage on prevented planting acres would be baling the forage.

Saeugling said there are some considerations to keep in mind when baling this forage.

If you are attempting to bale forages such as oats or rye, you should be able to do this as you normally would. However, if you are attempting to bale millets, sudans and sorghums, he has a couple recommendations, he said.

These warm-season plants will have thicker stems that take much longer to dry out. Saeugling recommended that, if you want to make dry hay, use a mower-conditioner to cut the forage instead of a disc mower.

"The mower-conditioner will allow the plants to dry out faster, which is important considering these crops might have to dry for a week or so," he said. "The shorter daylight hours in September will also have an effect on this forage attempting to dry down."


Farmers with prevented planting acres will have options when it comes to how to handle these acres as the growing season comes to an end.

Saeugling said those who have acres with standing water or soils that are still wet will just have to wait until the soil is dry -- hopefully, by next spring, he said.

On fields with dry soils, farmers could do some fall tillage to incorporate plant material back into the soil. This would allow some bacteria to be put back into the soil and hopefully limit any issues associated with fallow syndrome, he said.

"I think we would all be OK with returning to a more normal growing season in 2020," Saeugling said.

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

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Russ Quinn