Brassicas and small grains: Sustainable feed for Northeast dairy farms

Final Report for FNE14-810

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2014: $11,078.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
John O'Meara
O'Meara Family Farm
Expand All

Project Information


This project attempted to test the practice of sowing two different types of brassicas into small grains.  In the spring of 2014, eight acres of grain were sown—four of wheat (Glenn hard red spring wheat) and four of oats (Kame oats).  The small grains were intersown with  one of two types of brassicas—kale and forage turnips  (Kestrel Kale and Appin forage turnips).  This project attempted to use intersowing to create two crops in one season;  the cash crop of small grains followed by a forage crop of grain residue and brassicas.  Overall, the project was an attempt to increase the economic viability of dairy farms in the northeast through the testing of an innovative intercropping idea.
The results of this project showed that forage turnips performed better than kale when intersown with small grains. 

The brassicas performed similarly in both wheat and oats.
Forage turnips peformed somewhat better when sown at the same time as the small grains; when the forage turnips were sown after a ten day interval, the performed somewhat worse.

In general, however, the brassicas did not perform particularly well as a crop that could be green chooped in grain crop residue, as was intended.  Instead, the brassicas showed potential as a crop that could be grazed when intersown with small grains (after grain harvest).  In addition, this project indicated that brassicas intersown with small grains may serve a useful purpose in preparing ground for subsequent crops.


Intersowing one crop into another has a particular advantage for dairy farmers.  Often, one crop can best be utilized as a cash crop while another can be used for forage.  This project combined brassicas with small grains.  Particularly in short-season areas, dairy farmers must produce forage in the most timely, efficient manner possible.  Small grains such as wheat and oats perform well in the northeast; the price of small grains is high and offers an opportunity as a cash crop.  Brassicas also perform well in a short season, are not harmed by fall frosts, and provide a high quality feed for dairy animal.

However, the results of this project show that intercropping these two crops did not function as planned in our short season. 

Project Objectives:

The objective of this project was to determine how well kale and forage turnips would perform when intersowed into wheat and oats.  We were aiming for a profitable cash crop followed by a decent quality dairy feed.

In general, this project attempted to find out if the two crops would perform well together.  The project proved that the brassicas performed well enough to be harvested as a vegetable crop during the growing season.  The grains performed well.  The brassicas did not perform well enough while growing with the grains to provide a chopped feed at the end of the season.  The straw and brassicas could be usefully grazed at the end of the season.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Richard Kersbergen


Materials and methods:

This project tested kale and forage turnips.  Four acres were used to test the two brassica crops in oats; four acres were used to test the brassicas in spring wheat.  (Both crops are currently in demand throughout the northeast.)  The goal was to produce both a grain crop and a high quality forage with a minimum of expense and tillage.


Plot 1--  oats (Kame) sown in May with kale (Kestrel) sown at the same time.

Plot 2--  oats sown in May--  kale sown into the oats after ten days.

Plot 3-- oats sown in May with forage turnips (Appin) sown at the same time.

Plot 4-- oats sown in May--  forage turnips sown into the oats after ten days.

Plot 5--  spring wheat (Glenn) sown in May with kale sown at the same time.

Plot 6—spring wheat sown in May--  kale sown into the spring wheat after ten days.

Plot 7--  spring wheat sown in May with forage turnips sown at the same time.

Plot 8--  spring wheat sown in May--  forage turnips sown into the spring wheat after ten days.

The land used for this project consists of  a combination of clay/loam.  It has been in organic production for five years.  The land was plowed with a standard moldboard plow in the spring (May), harrowed, and planted to the small grain and brassicas using a John Deere grain drill wth single disc openers.  It was rolled during the planting process to facilitate good germination-- using a standard steel roller.

The stands of brassicas were measured for plants per square meter before the grain harvest and one week after the grain harvest. This was done by taking ten random samples from each plot before grain harvest and after grain harvest.  Brassica density was counted in a one meter sample box in ten random locations in each plot to achieve brassicas per square meter.

The oats and wheat were harvested as grain at the appropriate harvest times--  September.   An older, Massey Ferguson 300 combine with a 13' grain head was used for harvesting.  Although not a new machine, this combine has a reputation for effectively harvesting a variety of crops.  The grain was cut relatively high in order to leave a substantial amount of straw/crop residue in the field with the brassicas and in order to not damage the growing brassicas.

Approximately 30-45 days after grain harvest, the brassicas were  harvested as livestock feed( see below).    

The brassica/grain residue were harvested with a flail chopper and fed to our dairy herd. This was done with a 6' Bear Cat flail chopper. No problems arose with off-flavored milk.  Tons per acre were recorded.  A standard feed analysis was conducted for each plot through Dairy One in New York.



Research results and discussion:



Grain was measured as wet yield.  To measure the grain yield, we determined the amount of bushels in the combine from each plot, weighed several bushels to get an average weight per bushel, and multiplied.


  1. Yield per acre --tons per acre. ( see attached document with table below: Grain Yield)


Plot 1-  1200 lbs oats

Plot 2--  900 lbs oats

Plot 3--  1300 lbs oats

Plot 4-- 1200 lbs. oats

Plot 5-- 700 lbs. wheat

Plot 6-- 800 lbs wheat

Plot 7-- 950 lbs wheat

Plot 8-- 900 lbs wheat


Brassicas plus straw-- ton per acre

Brassicas plus crop residue were measured as wet yield in the same manner as the grain.


Plot 1—NA

Plot 2—NA

Plot 3— 900 lbs.

Plot 4—800 lbs.

Plot 5—NA

Plot 6— NA

Plot 7—800 lbs.

Plot 8—700 lbs.


The kale in all four plots where it was sown failed to produce a harvestable crop.  Although it sprouted well and initially appeared to be growing well, it did not compete well with the weeds in the feed—nor did it grow well as a companion crop with either wheat or oats.  At harvest time, most of the kale had been smothered out.  At harvest time for brassicas, the kale that was there was too small to harvest.


The forage turnips did better than the kale—though they did not do as well as hoped.  Yields were lower than originally anticipated.  In addition, our location received a foot of heavy wet snow just before the planned harvest time for the brassicas.  Although the snow did melt after almost two weeks, the forage turnips had been flattened to the ground, making harvest with any machinery very difficult.  These conditions mad the already low yield even lower.  Quality of forage also suffered.  Moose damage on the forage turnips in October was also significant.



Quality of feed--  a standard forage analysis through Dairy One in New York was conducted on the brassicas in each plot.  The cows seemed to like the brassica/crop residue-- no problems were observed with palatability.

Weeds were estimated on a scale of one to ten--  one means that ten percent of the a one meter square was occupied in weeds.  10 means that 100% of the area in a one meter square was covered in weeds.

This was measured and recorded just prior to grain harvest and just prior to harvesting the brassica crop.  See document attached below marked "Weed Pressure" that includes a table.

Weed pressure before grain harvest:

Plot 1—8

Plot 2—8

Plot 3—4

Plot 4—5

Plot 5—9

Plot 6—8

Plot 7—3

Plot 8—4


Weed pressure before brassica harvest:

Plot 1—10

Plot 2—10

Plot 3—4

Plot 4—5

Plot 5—10

Plot 6—10

Plot 7—3

Plot 8—4


Density of brassicas in each plot—plants per square meter.  This was also be measured and recorded just prior to grain harvest and just prior to harvesting the brassica crop.

Brassicas were measured using a one meter square.  The square was placed in ten random spots in each plot.  Brassicas were counted in each of the ten locations and averaged to achieve an estimate of brassicas per meter in each plot.

See attached document below that includes a table of the results marked" Brassica Density".

Density of brassicas—just prior to grain harvest--  plants/square meter

Plot 1—4

Plot 2—6

Plot 3—36

Plot 4—48

Plot 5—2

Plot 6—5

Plot 7—60

Plot 8—52


Density of brassicas—just prior to brassica harvest--  plants/square meter

Plot 1—0

Plot 2—0

Plot 3—30

Plot 4—44
Plot 5—2

Plot 6—4

Plot 7—54

Plot 8—40

The results from Dairy One are attached.  In the report, plot 1 is actually plot 3.  Plot 2 is actually plot 4. The report labelled plot 3 is plot 7 and the report labelled plot 4 is actually plot 8.  Only plots 3 and 4, and 7 and 8, the ones with forage turnips, were harvestable.

Research conclusions:

The primary accomplishment of this project was to determine that forage turnips perform far better in our conditions than kale when sown with spring wheat or oats.  Although conditions also determined that the forage turnips did not perform particularly well as a green chop crop in the small grain residue (as planned), there are potentials for using forage turnips sown into small grains, given the results of this project.  For example, we estimated that 200 lbs of baby turnip greens could be harvested per acre in  the plots sown with forage turnips with either wheat or oats.  These greens could be sold as a cash crop(Even at $2/ pound, this would add considerably to the financial viability of the grain/brassica crop.)  In addition, there is evidence that the presence of the forage turnips in the grain field may help prepare the ground for a subsequent crop, much in the same way tillage radishes perform.  Although this project was not designed to test the function of the forage turnips in preparing the soil for next year’s crops, the root systems and organic matter contributed by the turnips must have a positive impact on preparing the ground for next planting season.  Thirdly,  even in adverse climactic conditions such as those experienced in New Sweden in 2014 (early snow, moose),  the forage turnips could be effectively grazed instead of harvested with a green chopper.  Because of the location of the fields in this project, grazing was not practical.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

We have submitted an article on this topic to Farming magazine (see below).  John O’Meara, with the assistance of adviser Rick Kersbergen, is planning on speaking on this topic at the Maine Grass Farmer’s Convention in the spring.







Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

The main contribution of this project is to identify forage turnips as superior to kale when sown into small grains.  In our conditions, our plan of green chopping grain residue and brassicas did not end up being a viable, profitable option.  However, the project did raise the possibility of intersowing brassicas into grain for the purpose of harvesting the brassicas as human food; it also raised the possibility of using the brassicas as a crop to prepare ground for future crops.

Plots 3 and 7—where the forage turnips were sown at the same time as the grains—performed somewhat better than the plots where the brassicas were sown after a ten day delay.  This project provides some evidence that sowing brassicas and grains at the same time would be the better practice in general.

Future Recommendations

Given the results of this project, we recommend that forage turnips be considered as a companion crop for small grains but that the goal of planting the two crops together should focus on the ability of the brassica to help prepare the soil for subsequent crops.  The low cost of brassica seed per acre should make this practice viable.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.