Planting Summer Annual Forage Crops: Grower Talk
There’s still time to plant summer annual forages for pasture and hay this season. Forages like sorghum-sudangrass, millet and teff are typically planted in May through July. The earlier these are planted during this time window, the higher the yield opportunities. Summer annuals make their best growth when cool season grasses have gone semi-dormant during hot, dry months. Read on to learn from two producers about their experiences with these forage crops.
Wes Husband, on growing German Millet (also called Foxtail Millet):
“I have grown German/Foxtail millet for hay and have always been lucky enough to have a good crop. One year we had it tested, and it was 14% crude protein. That year I cut it right when it was in the boot.” (before seed heads form)
“I started using millet frequently for two reasons. I plant/reseed hay fields in the fall because there are less weed problems then. I use the millet during the summer growing season to prep the ground for working in the fall and suppression of weeds during the growing season. Millet seems to have the same effect on ground as soybeans. After I harvest the millet the ground really works up well.”
“I have been double-cropping the millet behind wheat. Once the wheat is harvested, I plant millet to make sure I have enough hay. Last year it rained so much, and it became so late with the wheat harvest that I didn’t plant millet until the third week in July and still had a harvestable crop.”
“Advantages include low seed cost, minimal rainfall requirements, high yields, and minimal fertilizer needs. It is excellent for an emergency late planted hay crop and has a short growing season. If there is a disadvantage I guess it would be that it’s an annual.”
Caldwell Willig, on growing Sorghum-Sudangrass and Teff:
“We had a river bottom that wasn’t fenced and couldn’t be grazed. It was cropped for years (grain) but we still had to buy hay to supplement what we cut on the rest of the farm. So the economics of leasing the bottom and turning around and buying hay just didn’t make sense. We already had the investment in the hay equipment so we decided to convert the bottom to hay ground.”
“The advantage of using sorghum-sudangrass and teff was the increased tonnage/acre yields. As far as disadvantages – like all hay, timing is everything. Teff was very prone to lodging, particularly right before cutting. A sudden shower with some wind meant disaster when we grew it.” (Especially prone to lodging after stem elongation/seed formation).
“Excessive rainfall right before harvest of sorghum-sudangrass results in the plants over-maturing very quickly and producing thick, unpalatable stems. Also, the sorghum-sudangrass is very difficult to dry down sufficiently to make good quality hay. It makes better baleage.” This year, Caldwell planted sorghum-sudangrass on a different part of the farm, where it could be grazed by cattle.
Note that horses should not be allowed to graze sorghum-sudangrass or millet pastures because of serious health disorders associated with these. When in doubt about suitable forages for grazing animals, check with the Extension Office and/or your veterinarian.
For seeding rates and depths and more forage information, see the Grain and Forage Crop Guide online.