One option to consider in fields with severe storm damage with no or limited yield potential is annual forages. This option may especially be of interest to livestock producers who could utilize the forage or may be short on forage or feed as a result of the storm damage. The following recommendations are meant to serve as a starting point for those considering an annual forage in storm damaged fields.
Check with crop insurance. If your crop is insured, the first call needs to be to your insurance agent to get the field adjusted and determine insurance payments. The second question for your agent is what restrictions are in place for growing a forage crop. Are there restrictions on grazing or mechanical harvest, and are there any dates after which it can be grazed? Some will allow a cover crop to be seeded but not grazed until after November 1. Also, be sure your agent has released the field before destroying the field for a new crop.
Check pesticide labels. If you plan to graze or harvest a forage crop, be sure to check the labels on all pesticides, applied to the corn or bean crop. Two key points to check include when a forage crop can be planted (crop rotation restrictions) and when can it be consumed by livestock (grazing or forage restrictions). A handy resource to check pesticide labels for any potential restrictions is www.cdms.net/label-database.
Determine feed needs and how annual forages can help fill them. Warm-season and cool-season annual forages can help to stretching the grazing season and reducing the costs and stored feed needs.
Warm season or summer annuals such as sorghum, sorghum x suduangrass, sudangrass, and millets are the highest yielding and grow well in the heat of summer, provided adequate moisture is available for germination. They can be grazed or mechanically harvested as silage or wilted for baleage. Dry hay is not recommended with these summer annuals due to dry down difficulties. Prussic acid poisoning can be a concern with sorghum, sorghum x suduangrass, and sudangrass with frost in the fall. Tips for managing frosted forages with the concern for prussic acid poisoning can be found here.
If a summer annual is not able to be seeded by August 1, it may be worth waiting until mid-August to plant a cool season spring or winter annual instead. Spring annuals, like oats or spring wheat, can provide quick growth for fall grazing and don’t require any extra management next spring since they don’t overwinter. Winter annual, like cereal rye or winter wheat, will provide both fall/early winter grazing and early spring grazing, but they require termination in the spring prior to the 2021 grain crop. Legumes or brassica species could also be mixed with the cool season annuals; however, double check herbicide labels for any crop rotation or grazing restrictions.
With grazing, strip grazing helps to reduce waste of these forages. This can be accomplished with a single electrified wire moved weekly or twice per week. If strip grazing, start with the part of the field closest to the water source, and leave adequate forage residue for regrowth or protection from erosion.