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Winter Cereals as Double Crops in Corn Rotations on New York Dairy Farms

Quirine M. Ketterings1, Shona Ort1, Sheryl N. Swink1, Greg Godwin1, Tom Kilcer1, Jeff Miller2, Bill Verbeten3, and Karl J. Czymmek4

1Nutrient Management Spear Program, Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 2Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County, 3Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Extension Team, 4PRODAIRY, Cornell University

Double Crops in Corn Rotations

Weather extremes in 2012 and 2013 impacted corn silage and hay yields for many dairy farms in New York, prompting a growing interest in double cropping of winter cereals for harvest as high quality forage in the spring. In 2012‒2014, forage yields were measured on farms for cereal rye and triticale to document yield potentials and expected yields for these winter forages grown in corn-cereal rotations in New York. We also interviewed 30 New York farm managers who grew winter cereals as double crops with corn silage in 2013 to learn from their experiences.

Yield Averages and Ranges

The study included 19 cereal rye fields and 44 triticale fields. Averaged over the three years, cereal rye yielded 1.62 tons DM/acre (nineteen fields) with an average minimum yield of 0.99 tons DM/acre and maximum of 2.40 tons DM/acre (Table 1; Figure 1). The average triticale yield over the 3-year period amounted to 2.18 tons DM/acre (44 fields) with an average minimum yield of 1.06 tons DM/acre and maximum of 3.46 tons DM/acre (Table 1; Figure 1). No side-by-side comparisons were done between the two species so we cannot conclude if one species yielded higher than the other in any of the years. But, the results show that yields exceeding 1 ton DM/acre are common (Figure 1); 71% of all fields exceeded 1.5 tons DM/acre. Determining the factors that enable higher yields (3 to 4 tons DM/acre) on some fields (Figure 1) will be essential to increase farmer adoption of double cropping with small grain cereal crops.

Ketterings - Table 1

Fig. 1. Distribution of yields of 19 cereal rye and 44 triticale fields harvested as forage in May of 2012-2014 in New York.

Fig. 1. Distribution of yields of 19 cereal rye and 44 triticale fields harvested as forage in May of 2012-2014 in New York.

Farmer Survey

Of all farm tillable acres among the 30 farms, 3768 acres (8%) were double cropped with a winter cereal harvested as forage in May. For 14 (47%) of the 30 farmers in the survey, 2013 was the first year of growing double crops on the farm. Nine farmers (30%) had 2‒4 years of experience. Three farmers (10%) had 5‒7 years of experience while four farmers (13%) had implemented double cropping for more than 10 years. Of all farmers in the survey, 25 (83%) had tried triticale as a double crop while 14 (47%) had experience with cereal rye. Seeding rates ranged from 60 to 185 lbs seed/acre for triticale and from 60 to 150 lbs seed/acre for cereal rye. Fields were established with drills (57%) or broadcast-seeded (43%), and 37% received manure in rates ranging from 2,500 to 12,000 gallons of manure/acre. Fertilizer was used at green-up by 79% of the farmers. The most commonly applied fertilizers were urea or urea mixed with ammonium sulfate (48% of the farmers). Ten farmers (34%) used liquid urea ammonium nitrate with or without ammonium thiosulfate; the remaining farmers did not identify the source of N they used. 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%), and a high of 80‒105 lbs N/acre (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 might reflect, among others, the lack of knowledge about and guidance for N management for these winter cereals grown as forage crops in corn rotations. Herbicide was applied to the double crops grown as forage in 2013 by only three of the 29 farmers (10%) who responded to this question. None of the farmers indicated use of fungicides or insecticides for the winter cereals. This is not surprising as harvest takes place prior to the onset of common diseases and pests for winter cereals in the Northeast.

Farmer Motivation for Double Crop

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 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.

Challenges and Information Needs

The biggest challenge with the double crop rotation identified by the farmers was getting a double crop seeded in time in the fall (Table 2), consistent with the short period between corn silage harvest and first frost. In addition, nine farmers (32%) pointed to the potential for delay in corn planting following double crop harvest. Five farmers (18%) identified labor and time involved as a constraint, while four farmers (14%) pointed to weather challenges during harvest time of the double crops (too wet in spring to get equipment on fields). Many farmers identified the impact of the double crop on the following crop as the most important aspect of double cropping that they needed to learn more about. They wanted to know more about the impact of nutrient uptake and removal by the double crop harvest on fertilizer needs of the crop seeded after double crop harvest. This was followed by questions about economics and forage quality (milk production potential of the winter cereals), and harvest methods.

Ketterings - Table 2


Yields averaged 1.62 and 2.18 tons DM/acre for cereal rye and triticale, respectively, and 71% of all fields exceeded 1.5 tons DM/acre. Surveyed farmers planted, on average, 8% of their tillable acres to winter cereal with the intent to harvest as forage. Triticale was the most frequently used (70%), typically seeded with a drill (57%). Manure was applied to 37% of the fields. Fertilizer N was applied at dormancy break by 79% of the farmers, with a median application rate of 60 lbs N/acre. The biggest challenge with the double-crop rotation, identified by the farmers, was timely seeding of the double crop in the fall. Despite challenges encountered and questions about the impact of harvest of the winter cereal on the main crop, 83% of the surveyed farmers planned to continue to grow double crops. This study shows New York farmers successfully implemented corn-winter cereal double cropping practices, benefitting agricultural environmental management and per acre forage production. Economic analyses need to be conducted to evaluate what yield level is needed for a positive economic return on investment.

Additional Resource

Ketterings, Q.M., S. Ort, S.N. Swink, G. Godwin, T. Kilcer, J. Miller, W. Verbeten, and K.J. Czymmek (2014). Winter cereals as double crops in corn rotations on New York dairy farms. Journal of Agricultural Science –DOI: 10.5539/jas.v7n2p18.


Funding sources included the Northern New York Agriculture Development Program (NNYADP), a USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant, and Federal Formula Funds. We thank Cornell Cooperative Extension field crop educators Paul Cerosaletti, Janice Degni, Dale Dewing, Kevin Ganoe, Mike Hunter, Jeff Miller, and Ashley Pierce; crop consultants Pete Barney, Eric Bever, Jeremy Langner, Joe Lawrence, and Jeff Williard; Soil and Water Conservation District staff Jonathan Barter, Steve Lorraine, and Aaron Ristow; and Natural Resources Conservation Service staff Paul Salon and Martin Van Der Grinten for their collaboration. We thank the many participating farmers for hosting trials and completing the surveys and Lars Demander, Sanjay Gami, Diego Gris, Gordana Jacimovski, and Emma Long of the Nutrient Management Spear Program at Cornell University for help with field data collection and sample processing. For questions about these results contact Quirine M. Ketterings at 607-255-3061 or qmk2@cornell.edu, and/or visit the Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program website at: http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/.

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