Winter triticale or rye as a double crop to protect the environment and increase yield
Overwintering cover crops can conserve soil, improve soil health, capture end-of-season N and supply N for the following crop but farmers are more likely to plant such crops if there is a direct return in the spring (yield benefit). In fall 2010, a western NY dairy planted winter triticale after corn silage and harvested 2.3 tons DM/acre in spring 2011, increasing the overall per acre yield at the farm by 33%. Other farms implemented the practice of double cropping in recent years, partially driven by the 2012 drought that left many farms with a shortage in silage.
Two main research questions remaining are: (1) how much nitrogen is needed at green-up to obtain these yields; and (2) how does double cropping impact field production economics and nutrient balances. In the spring of 2013, 44 on-farm trials were conducted statewide (NY) to evaluate performance of winter cereals on commercial farms and to specifically address the question: “How much N is needed at green-up to obtain economic yields?” The results showed optimum N rates that ranged from zero to about 120 lbs N/acre.
Farmer feedback showed strong interest in continuing to pursue double cropping and on-farm N studies, realizing that N guidelines can only be developed when multiple years are included to capture year to year variability and geographic differences (soil types, growing conditions etc.). In this project, we conduct additional on-farm N rate trials, and analyze forage samples, enabling more accurate assessments of the benefits of winter forages on farm diet formulation and the need for feed imports. In addition, we conduct economic analyses of double crop rotations. Our on-farm research partnership will be expanded with new collaborators to expose them to on-farm research. Three farmers and farm advisors will share their experiences with the project in the form of farmer impact stories, farmer quotes in extension articles and talks, and other outreach activities (field visits, etc.).
Fifteen participating farmers will grow 600 acres of double crops with an average fertilizer use of 60 lbs N/acre (40 lbs N/acre reduction), adding 2 tons DM/acre to the full season yield. Of all corn growers, 60% (representing 300.000 acres) will learn about managing double crops in corn silage rotations and 20% will indicate an interest in including double crops in the future.
- Eight farmers and eight crop or nutrient management advisors will learn to conduct replicated N rate trials with cereal rye or triticale (on-farm replicated trials as part of the adaptive management process) and gain (additional) experience in growing winter cereals as double crops in corn rotations.
- All farmers and farm advisors (trials of 2013-2014-2015 combined; estimated 40 farmers, building on 33 farms already in the project with trials in 2013 and 20 farm advisors, expanding beyond the 18 farm advisors who participating in 2013) will gain a better understanding of winter cereal forage quality and management of forage quality.
- Three groups of four farmers each (three geographic regions in the state) will work with the farm business specialist on the project team to conduct an economic analysis of the new rotation (corn-double crop combination) as impacted by yield, forage quality, and optimum N rate.
- Three farmers and their farm advisors (also three geographic regions in the state) will share their experiences with the project and the double crop practice in the form of farmer impact stories, farmer quotes in extension articles and talks, and other outreach activities (field visits, etc.).
- Of all corn silage growers (covering about 500,000 acres in NY), 60% (representing 300.000 acres) will become aware of the existence and results of the project by year 3 though work with their consultants, extension and farmers and extension, popular press articles, and other mailings.
- Three-hundred corn growers will return surveys (postcard survey) and indicate intend to use project results to evaluate N management and include double crops in corn rotations in future years (beyond the scope of the project).
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Fourteen on-farm trials were completed in 2014 (five with NNYADP funds), each trial consisting of 5 N rates, 4 times replicated. Trials were initiated at green-up and harvested in May in collaboration with local consultants and extension educators.
Data collected included yield and forage quality, and soil samples and field management parameters (field histories). Yield reports were mailed out to all participating farmers and farm advisors, and complete farmer reports will be mailed before Christmas, summarizing yields achieved, optimum N rates, soil fertility information and forage quality parameters.
A yield article (in review) shows that over the past 3 years yields averaged 1.62 and 2.18 tons dry matter (DM) per acre for cereal rye and triticale, respectively with some fields yielding more than 3 tons DM per acre. Forage analyses showed no consistent impact of N application on any of the forage quality parameters except for protein levels which increased by 1% for every 15-16 lbs of nitrogen per acre added. Completed farmer reports will be mailed out in the coming week. Additional presentations will be given this winter. Research is ongoing to identify under what conditions additional N at green-up is needed and where we can grow high yielding crops of high quality without any N addition. Economic analysis is ongoing as well, with input from farmer and extension and consultants.
Four extension educators are working with a farm business specialist on economic analyses of the new rotation. Several team meetings were held to develop a consensus for the assessment. The extension educators collected farmer information to aid in the economic assessment.
Field crop extension educators were updated on the project at the annual Agricultural Inservice in Ithaca in November, 2014 (about 20 people), an update was given during the Valatie Research Farm field day in August, 2014 (about 35 people). Results were presented to about 100 farm advisors at the 2014 Northeast Region Certified Crop Advisor annual training in December, 2014. Additional talks will be given in the coming winter months. One new farmer impact story was added to the project website (http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/NYOnFarmResearchPartnership/DoubleCrops.html), featuring a farm in Otsego County, NY.
A 3-page farmer survey was conducted included six components: (1) farm size, acreage in double crops, and number of years of experience of the farmer with double cropping of over-wintering cereals in corn rotations; (2) motivation for adding winter cereals to the corn rotation; (3) agronomic practices; (4) challenges encountered with double cropping; (5) double crop plans for the future; and (6) need for further information. The survey was completed by 30 NY farmers who hosted on-farm trials, representing northern (seven farms), eastern (three farms), central (one farm), western (twelve farms), and southern (seven farms) NY. The thirty farmers managed 49,025 acres in total cropland of which 3768 acres (8%) were double cropped with a winter cereal harvested as forage in May. The survey did not include questions related to percentage of tillable acres in corn silage but in 2012, 1,155,000 acres of cropland were planted to corn statewide of which 41% was harvested as silage and 59% as grain while hay was harvested on 1,560,000 acres (USDA-NASS, 2014). If, on average, the farms operated by the 30 surveyed farmers have a similar crop acreage distribution (43% of the total acreage in corn of which 41% is harvested as silage), the 8% of all tillable acres in double crops represents approximately 45% of the acreage in corn silage on the cooperating farms in the study.
Of the 29 farmers who responded to the question about fertilizer use, 23 farmers (79%) applied N fertilizer at dormancy break. Nitrogen application rates varied from zero (21% of all farms) to 40-50 lbs N/acre (21%), 50-70 lbs N/acre (29%), 70-80 lbs N/acre (18%) to 80-105 lbs N/acre for 11% of the farms. The average application rate for those farmers who applied N was 66 lbs N/acre with a median of 60 lbs N/acre. The wide range in N application rates reflects, among others, the lack of knowledge about and guidance for N management for these winter cereals grown as forage crop in corn rotations. Hence, this project!
Sixteen farmers (53%) listed the desire to increase the forage production on a limited crop area as the main reason for seeding winter cereals. Ten (33%) indicated they had seeded double crops primarily to address a feed shortage (emergency feed). Increased farm profits and higher quality feed were listed as reasons for including double crops by five (17%) and four (13%) of the farmers, respectively. Of all farmers, 25 farmers (83%) planned to continue to grow winter cereals as a forage crop in the future with an additional five farmers (17%) who said they might consider it. In total, sixteen farmers (53%) planned to increase the acreage planted to double crops in the coming year while another seven (23%) said they may do so but were not sure yet.
329 Morrison Hall
Department of Animal Science
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072552882
Regional Farm Business Specialist
NWNY Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Team
3 Murray Hill DR
Mt Morris, NY 14510
Office Phone: 5859915438
Senior Extension Associate
PRODAIRY, Cornell University
328 Morrison Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072554890
Regional Extension Agronomist
NWNY Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Team
4487 Lake Road
Lockport, NY 14094
Office Phone: 5853134457