August is now here, and sowing wheat for pasture is just around the corner.
Producers wanting to take of advantage of early planted wheat for fall forage have many challenges to consider in order to produce enough forage to graze. Sowing wheat early significantly increases the possibility that diseases and insect pests can limit fall forage production.
When growing wheat for forage one of the easiest ways to get more tonnage is to plant early. Research conducted by Oklahoma State Universtiy has shown that more forage is produced the earlier we plant. Some trials show that sowing wheat the first week of September yielded about twice as much fall forage as a mid- to late-September planting date. When sowing wheat this early we can sacrifice some grain potential and some issues can occur.
When planting this early the potential for pests can increase. These pests include many viruses, root rots, foliar diseases, hessian flies, wheat curl mites, wireworms, army cutworms and weeds. Some aid can be made through the use of seed treatments that include an insecticide and/or a fungicide. These seed treatments can reduce root/foot rots, bunt, smut, leaf rust, powdery mildew, hessian fly, as well as reduce aphids that can transmit barely yellow dwarf virus. When selecting a seed treatment, be cautious of grazing restrictions, which can range from 0-45 days depending on product used.
Over the past few years, getting a stand going has been challenging due to armyworms and some mite-transmitted diseases (wheat streak mosaic, high plains disease or Triticum mosaic). The best management practice would be to prevent a green bridge prior to sowing the wheat. A minimum of two weeks of nothing green (including corn, sorghums, volunteer wheat and other grassy weeds) is needed to allow the wheat curl mite to starve out prior to wheat seeding.
The wheat curl mite still might vector these viruses when invading from neighboring fields, but the viruses will cause less of an impact due to a later infection.
When selecting a wheat variety be sure to note certain characteristics like acidic soil tolerance, high soil temperature germination sensitivity, coleoptile length, forage production potential, pest resistance, recovery after grazing and first hollow stem date. Utilizing certified seed wheat also can ensure adequate seed quality. Good seed vigor with a known germination percentage will aid in developing early seedling vigor, which will typically lead to producing more fall forage.
The next easiest way to increase fall forage would be to increase your seeding rates. Several trials have shown that fall forage will increase with a seeding rate of two bushels (120 pounds) per acre. Fall forage can be increased with even higher seeding rates, but the economics start to become a little less favorable due to seed costs.
Increasing seeding rates as the planting season progresses also can assist in producing more forage, but increasing seeding rates hardly ever makes up for lost forage potential from seeding earlier.
In addition to seed costs, fertility likely will be another high input cost. Managing fertility economically can be challenging. Starting with a simple composite soil sample can go a long way in managing this input.
Knowing your soil pH and levels of the other nutrients will dictate where you should focus your dollars. Acidic soils can limit forage production as much as anything else. The only solution to fix acidic soils is to apply lime, but variety selection and banding phosphorus fertilizer in-furrow can help offset the loss in forage production. Banding fertilizer with our grain drills is more efficient and economical because it is placed right with the seed.
To find out more about how to produce decent wheat pasture economically visit your local Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service office.
Bushong is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service northwest area agronomy specialist.