Maine Grain and Oilseed Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 5 — September 2013

In this issue:

Dear Grower,

The latest issue of the newsletter provides some information regarding the use of fall plantings for cover or harvestable 2014 crops. This has been a frustrating harvest and fall sowing season to date due to the uncooperative weather we’ve all been experiencing. Reviewing weather data from Caribou, Maine for the season, we are significantly above normal for precipitation for the growing season, and through the harvest/fall sowing period of August 15-September 15, the longest consecutive stretch of days without precipitation was three days. We hope to provide you  information in this latest newsletter that will be of benefit and relevant to the situation many are in.

Best regards,
Andrew Plant, Extension Agriculture Educator
Ellen Mallory, Sustainable Agriculture Specialist

57 Houlton Road, Presque Isle, ME 04769
207.764.3361 or 1.800.287.1462

Late Planting Fall Grains

Ellen Mallory, Sustainable Agriculture Specialist, University of Maine

It’d be a bit of an understatement to say that the weather this fall has not been so cooperative. Steady rain in late August and early September have hindered harvests and delayed planting of fall grains. Fall grains are winter annuals that are seeded in late summer and early fall and then harvested the following summer. Examples include winter wheat, winter rye, winter triticale, and winter spelt. Fall grains require mild temperatures to support adequate tillering, root growth, and crown development for winter survival. And while this is not an issue for this year, it is also possible to plant fall grains too early, which promotes too lush a growth and increases chances of winterkill and disease.

The Ideal Seeding Window

The recommended window for seeding fall grains in Maine is the first two weeks of September. Seeding in the third week September generally produces good results but after that yield potential declines. Of course, it depends on the year.

The table at the end of this article summarizes results from two years of planting date trials conducted near Orono, Maine. Four varieties of winter wheat were planted at three seeding dates in fall 2011 and five dates in fall 2012. Grain yields were measured and expressed as a percentage of the first seeding date. The fall and winter of 2011 were ideal for growing fall grains:  relatively dry conditions facilitated timely seeding; above average temperatures supported growth into November; and a mild winter with good snow cover provided good winter survival. Arapahoe and Redeemer showed almost no yield penalty for seeding in October, and while Harvard and AC Morley yields were reduced to about 75% of the maximum, but that was still a respectable 3,800 to 4,400 pounds per acre.

The fall of 2012 was the extreme opposite. Excessive rain in September and October hindered fall growth. Over the winter, limited snow cover combined with low temperatures reduced winter survival. Yields from the September 15th planting were less than half those of the prior year.  Yield reductions were also much more severe at the October 18th seeding date in 2012 than in 2011. However, even in 2012, the late September date produced relatively little reduction in yield.

What to Consider When Planting Late

We don’t know in advance what late fall and winter hold in store for us, so we have to give the crop the best chance to succeed under any conditions. If you are hoping to still get fall grains planted, here are a few things to consider.

  1. Increase your seeding rate by 10-20% to compensate for reduced tillering. Higher seeding rates will reduce the yield penalty for late planting but cannot eliminate it, as seen in the table from our trial.
  2. Add phosphorus at planting, especially if your soil tests low for P. Phosphorus helps with root growth, tillering, and hence, winter survival. And then in the spring, consider early spring topdress application to further stimulate tillering.
  3. Select more winter hardy varieties. For instance, the results from our trials suggest that Arapahoe is more winter hardy than the other varieties tested.  Consult variety test bulletins for this information.
  4. Treat your seed with a fungicide since it may sit in cold, wet conditions for a while before germinating.
  5. Consider winter rye if you want to seed past September. It is the heartiest of the fall grains.  We planted winter rye between the plots in our 2012 winter wheat planting date trial on the last seeding date (October 26) and it yielded approximately 1,500 pounds per acre compared to a little over 500 pounds per acre on average for the winter wheat varieties.

Table. Effects of fall seeding date on winter wheat grain yields.

Arapahoe Harvard AC Morley Redeemer
2011 2012 2011 2012 2011 2012 2011 2012
Grain yield at September 15 planting date (lbs/acre)
3720 1650 5080 1990 5885 1925 3750 1472
Percentage of the maximum yield resulting from later planting dates (%)
Sept 24 100 87 100 89
Oct 5 91 89 76 82 75 100 100 81
Oct 18 94 53 77 52 87 58 99 61
Oct 26 36 20 22 29
Percentage of the maximum yield resulting from increased seeding rate (%)
Oct 18 98 66 62 84 81 100 68
Oct 26 35 35 28 32

Cover Crops to Protect Soils and Improve Crop Quality

John Jemison, Soil and Water Quality Specialist, University of Maine

Reasons to plant late summer cover crops are many, but are sometimes unfortunately exceeded by the number of reasons why they are not done. I don’t think there is a Maine farmer today that would not ideally like to have a cover crop on fields to protect soil and water resources. What often interferes however is time, weather, resources, and possibly issues with subsequent crops.

For most organic farmers, cover crops are a very important weed management strategy. By densely planting a crop that you want to be there, you crowd out key broadleaf weeds, particularly winter annual weeds, as well as annual and perennial grasses. Planting oats at 100 lbs/ac provides a really nice cover crop that will protect the soil through the fall and will winterkill, allowing easy incorporation the following spring. This is my favorite cover crop strategy for my Orono community garden project, my home garden, and its my best recommendation for gardeners who don’t want to fight with rye that often overwinters and can be hard to kill in the spring without herbicides. A good substitution to the oat crop is to mix in peas at 25 – 30 lbs/acre while reducing the oats by a similar amount. The peas fix nitrogen (N) in the soil and help supply nitrogen the following spring when it’s incorporated.  Oats are reasonably inexpensive (usually about $0.50/pound) and while the addition of peas adds to the cost, according to a USDA-ARS fact sheet,  if you reduce the oat seeding rate, you can still keep the overall cost under $50/acre.

For some farmers, the continued growth of winter rye in the spring is a big advantage. The plant will pull water out of wet soils, and increasingly people are killing the rye with herbicides and no-till planting corn behind it. This conserves water, which while not a problem this year (ha!), could be in a drier year.

There can be other cover crops that have specific uses when planted before certain crops. We have been exploring the use of specific mustard crops because of their capacity to kill soil borne pathogens before planting potatoes. The thought is that the main mustard taproot can break up plow pans in the soil, and when you incorporate the leafy biomass into the soil, a natural gas is released which is toxic to specific soil pathogenic organisms. Peter Sexton found that potato yields were increased about 10% when following specific mustard cover crops – we call these high glucosinolate cover crops. We recently evaluated summer (season-long) high glucosinolate mustards (HGM) and found that most years HGM did lead to a reduced incidence of rhizoctonia and in some cases, also common scab in red potatoes.  The problem with that approach is that farmers often don’t want to give up an entire season of crop production. That is why we have started to evaluate a late summer planted cover crops that we hope will have the same effect. My hope is that farmers harvesting early crops like peas or greens, could come in and plant HGM in late July or early August, produce a lot of biomass, and be able to incorporate that prior to planting potatoes.  We are in the process of harvesting potatoes now; we look forward to seeing what the effect of these cover crops will have.

When we think about long-term soil productivity, it sure seems to me that cover crops are an excellent investment. Yes, it takes time to plant and incorporate cover crops, but it is an investment in preserving the soil for generations to come. It seems like we are having wetter fall and spring seasons, and as such I think we have an obligation to cover our soils to protect soil productivity and water quality for the long run.

Information on this website is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2013

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