Triticale proves to be good fit for feed, cover crop

Practices serve conservation, farming goals
Wisconsin State Farmer June 26, 2015, reprinted with permission.


When the candidates among the forages for providing livestock feed and serving as a winter cover crop are examined, triticale deserves serious consideration, according to speakers at a conservation field day in Brown County.

The event was held at the Natzke family’s Wayside Dairy, where triticale was grown earlier this year, harvested for dairy cattle feed and was then followed with a planting of 15- inch row corn – all by May 22. Farm co-owner Dan Natzke indicated that planting 250 acres of triticale is planned for later this year, once again on fields being rotated from alfalfa. 

Triticale basics 

In a briefing about triticale, Brown County Extension Service Agriculture Agent Liz Binversie explained that the dual forage and grain crop is a cross between wheat and rye. Not surprisingly, its name is derived form the Latin words for wheat (triticum) and rye (secale). Most of the agronomic and nutritional traits of triticale are proving to be very favorable Binversie said. She cited various research projects pertaining to fiber, protein digestibility, fat corrected milk production and intake and weight gain by calves compared to some other forages. As a forage that can be grazed, ensiled or baled, it’s not surprising triticale resembles wheat, rye and corn silage in many ways, Binversie said. The harvest timetable, whether at boot, milk or soft dough stage, will affect both the wilting times required to dry the forage to the suggested 65 percent moisture and the silage traits. One of the downsides with triticale, particularly when fed to dairy cows, is the possibility of high potassium content if manure was applied to the field shortly before the crop was grown, she noted. There’s also a possibility of a high nitrate intake.

 Experience at Wayside

While acknowledging some prompting by Julie Hager of the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Brown County, Natzke reported that the farm’s second try with growing a cover crop turned out very well for the first year. The triticale, which was no-till planted on September 15 in alfalfa sod, was cut on May 18 yielding about 2.5 dry matter tons per acre worth about $250 per acre and is being used for dairy heifer feed. Natzke said the only noticeable drawback was the 75-percient moisture at ensiling rather than the preferred 65-percent. Liquid manure was applied with a dragline at 8,000 gallons per acre two days after the harvesting of the triticale, and the corn was planted two days later, Natzke said. By the field day on June 16, the corn height in the 15 inch rows was about 5 inches.

 Crop consultant’s views

Wayside Dairy crop consultant Sean Eckstein was also very pleased with the
results of the cropping venture. He cited the ideal growth of the triticale to a volume of 7.5 wet tons per acre by the third week of May. As background, Eckstein noted that the field had been in alfalfa for four years, liquid manure hand been applied during the early years of the stand, four cuttings were taken in 2014 and 2, 4-D and glyphosate were applied to take out the alfalfa and tall fescue before the no-till seeding at about 110-120 pounds per acre on Sept. 15. The key for good growth of any cereal grain in the spring is early planting (before October in most of areas Wisconsin), Eckstien emphasized. Noting the late harvest of corn silage and soybeans in the past two years, he pointed out that the early planting of the triticale at Wayside Dairy last autumn was possible only because it was done on the previous hay field.  An application of 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre this spring enhanced the growth of the triticale, he said. To control any potential regrowth of the triticale and of weed species, a herbicide mix of three products was applied before the corn was planted. Although they can be managed and used in much the same way, Eckstein pointed out a difference between triticale and winter rye. The triticale has relatively small roots, while the winter rye can come close to creating a sod base with its large roots.

Multiple perspectives

From her natural resources conservation perspective, Hager listed several benefits of growing triticale, winter rye or winter wheat as a winter cover crop that would be harvested for forage in the spring. Those included the removal of any excess phosphorus that might otherwise run off and pollute surface waters; the long-term improvement of the soil biology; and an increase in soil organic matter. As a permitted farm under Wisconsin’s Concentrated Animal Facilities Operation program overseen by the Department of Natural Resources, Wayside Dairy needs to observe limits on liquid manure applications, Hager noted. She and Natzke observed that the relatively dry early spring this year were favorable on that point because this allowed an application of liquid manure at a time when this would otherwise by risky. Hager described the soil infiltration practice that should be followed in those situations. It involves a 6-inch diameter steel cylinder placed in the soil to check how long it takes for 444 milliliters of water (the equivalent of 1 inch of rain) to infiltrate.

Upcoming considerations

Hager is advising Natzke to expect somewhat of a yield drag for the corn this year but to consider that there is likely to be an increase in the total forage production for the year from the field. In the longer term, she promises any
concerns should be resolved by a combination of increased organic matter and waterholding capacity; improvements in soil biology; and a reduction of field trips with the use of notill planting. While admitting her perspectives might be viewed as “a leap of faith,” Hager stressed the growing of any cover crop will not be a waste whether it is harvested for feed or not. What’s important is to take advantage of cropping and timing windows and to engage in a continuous practice involving cover crops. Eckstein is cautious about one of the prescribed ways of establishing some cover crops. In particular, he has not seen good results with aerial seedings of winter rye, noting that good seed to soil is preferable when weather conditions are not ideal for germination and crop establishment. 

Immediate follow-ups

As to what will follow on the field at Wayside Dairy where the triticale was grown and the corn is now growing, Hager admitted “there is no good answer yet.” Ideally, she would like to see an interseeding of some legumes
into this year’s corn crop. Natzke is planning on three consecutive years of corn. With a plea for some species diversity between corn crops, Hager would like Wayside Dairy to consider at least one year of winter wheat, followed by summer planting of sorghum or legumes during the next several years. Regarding the chance to spread the timetable manure
application workload for both the farm and commercial applicators, Brent Petersen of the BrownCounty soil and water  conservation department pointed out that another possibility is sidedress application of liquid manure to corn during the early summer. He noted that implement dealers are beginning to acquire the necessary equipment.

Multiple site field day

The day’s field day program, which attracted about 50 attendees from the public and private sector, also included an afternoon stop at Denmar Acres LLC Dairy near Morrison in Brown County. At that stop, member of the Zirbel family reported on the results of differing corn row closing
wheel options on a Kinze no-till planter. According to Jeff Zirbel, the various settings of the closer equipment made little or no difference this spring because of the almost ideal conditions for corn planting and emergence. The attendees checked the results in a field where the corn was no-till planted following the radish and oats grown in the autumn of 2014. For the morning session of the field day, the results of frost seeding of red clover into winter wheat and the spring planting of soybeans into a terminated cover crop of triticale, radish and Berseem clover were evaluated on the Greg Nettekoven farm near Black Creek in northern Outagamie County. Other practices being undertaken and evaluated are the no-till planting of soybeans into a previous red clover crop and the interseeding of cover crops into corn which has reached it four-to-eight-leaf growth stage Petersen is leading a threeyear study of those and related practices on a network of four cooperating farms in Outagamie and Brown counties.

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