Although most Midwest farmers may not be facing any emergency situations with forages, the fact remains that much of the region had a long dry 1999 fall, with little opportunity for building forage reserves, says Rick Mammen, a University of Missouri Outreach and Extension agronomist.
Mammen says one possible remedy could be in planting some annual or temporary forages to replenish the stocks, and a current opportunity lies in oats.
"In many cases, pasture and hay inventories are quite low as we enter the spring growing season. Pastures may not only be short, but they may be in a somewhat weakened condition from prolonged heavy grazing or grubbing last summer and fall," he said. "With the continued relatively dry conditions some farmers are experiencing, 2000 may be a good year to put in oats, for hay, pasture or possibly grain for feed."
And if hay or pasture is the goal, Mammen says there is a wide window of time available this spring for getting the crop into the ground. But the quality of the grain usually is much better if it is planted early in the season.
"Whether or not it is oats, there are enough choices of species so that temporary or emergency forages can be planted about any season of the year. Sorghums, sudangrass and millets can be planted in the spring and summer, when the ground has warmed. Rye, barley, annual ryegrass and wheat can be planted in the late summer and fall, in that order, beginning in mid-August, if weather conditions permit," Mammen said. "But the current seasonal opportunity for a temporary forage is in planting oats, although, like most other temporary forages, they aren't cheap to grow."
Mammen says one of the big challenges in baling oats for hay is being able to get them put up without getting rained on.
Because they make a lot of tonnage, it sometimes is a problem in getting the hay cured between frequent late-spring showers.
"On the other hand, if a person is in need of forage, temporary forages typically are cheaper than building a forage program around purchased hay or grain," he said. "Perennial forages, such as cool- or warm-season grasses, typically are the most economical to grow long term, but sometimes we come up short on supplies when we depend on them entirely."
Oats need to be seeded at two to three bushels per acre, and fertilized with 40 to 60 units of nitrogen, and phosphorus and potassium according to soil test.
"If they are harvested as a hay crop, it may be possible to double crop with another forage, such as sorghum-sudangrass or millet later in the season," Mammen said.