New Winter Forage
|Vern Pluhar of Cohagen, Mont., has noticed abenefit to using Willow Creek awnless winter wheat as a livestock feed:His cattlealmost fully consume Willow Creek stems, whereas they refuse some stemmaterial of spring wheat. |
Photo by Eric Miller,Garfield County Extension Agriculture Agent
Montana producers have long been eager to take advantageof viablefall-planted winter cereals. Now, with help from two SARE grants, theyare starting to plant the first state-recommended winter wheat varietythat offers just what they have been looking for: a forage that cantake some of the heavy labor and cost burden off spring planting whileefficiently capturing precious winter and spring moisture.
From 2004 to2006, SARE funded on farm demonstration trials, workshops and otheroutreach efforts to show hundreds of growers across the state how theycan successfully incorporate Willow Creek awnless winter wheat intotheir operation. The forage is now being planted on an estimated20,000-25,000 acres in the state, according to Montana State Universityforage specialist Dennis Cash. That number is expected to increase asmore seed becomes available.
Cash and other researchers have found that Willow Creekoutperformsmany spring-planted forages because it makes excellent use of theregion’s minimal precipitation. It also contributes significantly tofarmers’ bottom line because it requires less irrigation, isfall-planted, and allows farmers to maintain good yields when rotatingout of alfalfa.
Producer George Reich sees a major benefit in the wayWillowCreek maximizes available moisture because Montana is in a semi-aridregion that gets about 12-15 inches of precipitation per year, most ofit in the winter and spring. “It takes advantage of the rain, which weget early, so it cuts down on the irrigation bill,” says Reich, whohelped lead demonstration trials on his 5,000-acre crop and livestockfarm in the town of Willow Creek.
|Montana farmers are planting Willow Creekawnless winterwheat on 20,000-25,000 acres, like this operation near Angela.|
Photo by Mark Helland
Cash and others demonstrated that this early exposure torainfall helped Willow Creek outperform spring-planted cereals likebarley and oats, while maintaining similar feed quality. In trials, itwas yielding 2.2 to 4.1 tons of hay per acre by early July. The foragetested high for crude protein and digestibility with a low risk fornitrate toxicity. In backgrounding trials, Cash found that cattlegained 2.5 pounds per day on a high-roughage diet of Willow Creek.
Forage specialists encourage growers to take theirfields outof alfalfa every five to six years in order to keep weeds andsoil-borne diseases at bay. Willow Creek represents a good stand-inbecause it allows growers to maintain consistent forage yields, animportant financial consideration. “When your hay fields go down to twotons per acre or under, if you can get three tons on forage, you’restill gaining and breaking up that cycle,” Reich says.
Because most producers interested in Willow Creek raiselivestock, fall planting is a big plus for another reason—it shiftssome of the workload and operating costs off springtime, when there isplenty of calving, field work and other important chores to be done.“All things being equal, that was one of the big messages that came inloud and clear,” Cash says.
For more information, go to www.sare.org/projectsand searchfor FW04-018 and FW05-012.