Winter forage crops for 2022

What should you be considering?

Tablelands Telegraph - March 2022

Clare Edwards, Senior Land Services Officer, Pastures

At beginning of most years, I usually get enquiries about sowing winter forage cereal crops. This year is a little different, with some major challenges and decisions to be made on planning and sowing winter forage crops. It is a little bit bizarre to be thinking about sowing when there are still some paddocks to be harvested in the area in late February. However, deliberations for this year include:

What is the purpose of sowing winter cereals?

This year, there may be large amounts of bulk in paddocks due to the previous conditions over spring-summer. Additionally, many producers are in the recovery phase from drought.

With lower livestock numbers, producers may not feel the need to establish winter forages this year.

Note: the current bulk in our pastures may be lower in quality than we expect. It may also constrict cool season legume germination. We use winter cereals for a number of purposes other than providing good quality feed. For example, the ability to grow quicker than some of the temperate grass pastures; to remove livestock from temperate pastures to allow growth for spring lambing/calving; and to prepare paddocks for future pasture sowing.

Preparation will be the key to forage sowing success this year

Biomass or ‘trash’ management prior to sowing will be important. With the amount of moisture throughout summer, there may be a need to do extra work on the paddocks this year.

Warm soil temperatures and good soil moisture will mean crops will get out ground sooner and potentially produce grazable feed early. This assumes that we continue to get good rainfall in early autumn.

If crops are ready to be early-grazed, don’t forget to consider whether the seed has been dressed (fungicides and insecticides). Always check that any relevant withholding periods are met.

Early bulk and moist conditions may also lead to rust in autumn. Some varieties may initiate premature heading if sown early and have low vernalisation or respond to long day conditions.

Grazing at this stage may impact on the overall longevity and potential amount of the forage crop. The long season varieties with a strong winter habit (requiring a cold period) are often best to sown in late summer or early autumn. Sowing early may reduce the impacts of those annual winter weeds, but watch out for those summer weeds such as couch, kikuyu, liverseed and barnyard grass. The soil temperature is still high enough that soil disturbance may give these species a competitive advantage over newly sown winter forage grasses.

Many questions this year involve soil nutrition and fertiliser

With potential supply issues, my suggestion is that a soil test will help to answer the first question – do I need phosphorus and sulphur?

Nitrogen is also important for newly sown seed to establish and persist. Nitrogen helps tiller development and hence the overall potential forage quantity. It also supports forage quality.

Crops that produce large amounts of biomass may also benefit from a top-dressing during the growing season.

Check soil the pH to understand the impacts of soil acidity on the performance of the forage crop. Some species, such as triticale, are somewhat tolerant of strongly acid soils.

Decisions on liming should also be made in conjunction with the question ‘what are your plans for this paddock in the future?’ Some producers have in the past used annual legumes as a component of their forage crop. Cool season annuals such as vetch have been added to compliment and add quality to the forage. There are a couple of points to note if you are considering this, including the use of small seed box at sowing, using the correct legume inoculant, understanding your soil nutrition and it impact on the legume, animal health impacts (such as bloat), grazing management of two different species and possible fodder conservation impacts.

For further information on varieties, sowing rates, grazing management and seed dressing check out the annual NSW DPI winter crop variety sowing guide.

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