Oats A Good Double Crop Option

Producers and growers looking to add an alternative forage may want to consider planting oats as a double-crop after wheat.

Published on: Jul 9, 2013

With hay inventories on May 1 in Ohio down 55% compared to the same time last year and at their lowest point since 1950, producers looking to add a crop after wheat harvest can consider adding oats, which can produce high yields with one cutting.

"Oats are a good way to add extra forages during a time when hay inventories are down and grain values are high, a forage," says Stan Smith, an Ohio State University Extension program assistant in agriculture and natural resources. 

Since wheat in Ohio traditionally comes off around July 4 and sometimes as late as July 20, growers would have plenty of time to meet the recommended planting date of Aug. 1 for oats, Smith says.

Oats A Good Double Crop Option
Oats A Good Double Crop Option

"Not only does an Aug. 1 planting date seem to offer more yield and higher quality oats (than planting them earlier), but it also allows growers and producers ample time to harvest straw which is in short supply, haul manure and control any perennial weeds and volunteer wheat that might be present," he says. "And unlike double-cropping soybeans, growers don't have to rush to get oats planted as soon as they harvest wheat.

"In fact, planting oats in early August results in greater yield and quality and oats are more likely to remain vegetative until extremely cold temperatures shut them down in December."

What's even more appealing, Smith says, is that Ohio oats commonly yield 3 tons of dry matter per acre, which is as productive as many traditional forages but only require one cutting. In fact, regardless the planting date or variety, no-tilled seeding rates from 80 to 100 pounds of oats have consistently resulted in optimum forage yields, he said.

"We can grow oats as a second harvest after wheat and grow what's equivalent to yields that we're getting from traditional mixed hay fields," Smith says. "We can achieve that in a short time, 75 days plus or minus, doing it in one cutting so you can save time and money by not using multiple harvesting operations."

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Smith said some considerations growers should be aware of include:

•The optimum nitrogen application rate is 40 to 50 pounds per acre, which produces the highest yields and is the most cost effective rate.

•The optimum combination of productivity and quality of August planted oats arrives 60 to 75 days after planting. Oats planted in July mature more quickly thanks to the heat, with declines in quality typically beginning 50 to 60 days after planting.

•Oats harvested 50 to 60 days after planting and while still in the boot stage of maturity may offer some regrowth that could be grazed.

•Growers should apply glyphosate before planting as a cost-effective way to control weeds.

•Growers can capture the total tonnage produced in a single harvest cut in late fall if grazing is not an option.

•With harvest typically being in November, grazing typically is the most effective and affordable alternative.

While strip grazing is the preferred method of harvest, Smith says, growers have other options including:

Baling oats. This is a challenge considering that oats dry only about half as fast as grass hay. In some cases, oats are taking nearly a week after being cut before they are dry enough to properly wet-wrap and ensile. Dropping them on wet soils doesn't enhance the drying or curing process.

Wet-wrapping. Using an in-line bale wrapper/tuber is less expensive per ton than individually wrapped bales if the equipment is available locally, but unless done properly might result in more storage loss than wet-wrapping individual bales.

Let the oats stand until they freeze. When a few days after dry frozen weather arrives, mow them, rake them and bale them quickly after they've essentially dried and cured while standing.

Chopping and ensiling. If grazing standing oats is not an option, chopping and ensiling may be the best alternative that remains for harvest. This offers advantages over baling or wet-wrapping, with the issue of curing the plants for dry harvest becoming a moot point. Chopping and ensiling into either a permanent structure or bags is also likely less expensive than wet-wrapping individual bales.

Source: OSU Extension