What's Cropping Up? Blog

Articles from the bi-monthly Cornell Field Crops newsletter

Nitrogen Management for Forage Winter Cereals in New York

Sarah E. Lyonsa, Quirine M. Ketteringsa, Shona Orta, Gregory S. Godwina, Sheryl N. Swinka, Karl J. Czymmeka,b, Debbie J. Cherneyc, Jerome H. Cherneyd, John J. Meisingere, and Tom Kilcera,f

a Nutrient Management Spear Program, Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, b PRODAIRY, Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, cDepartment of Animal Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, dSoil and Crop Sciences Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, eUSDA-ARS Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, Beltsville, MD, fAdvanced Agricultural Systems, LLC, Kinderhook, NY

Introduction

Forage double-cropping, or growing two forage crops in a single growing season, can be a beneficial practice for dairy farmers in New York. Double-cropping corn silage with forage winter cereals, such as triticale, cereal rye, or winter wheat, can add additional spring yield on top of numerous environmental benefits including preventing soil erosion, nutrient recycling, and increased soil organic matter over time – which all promote increased soil health. Winter cereals intended for forage harvest require nitrogen (N) management to reach optimum yield and forage quality. This study was aimed at identifying field and management characteristics that can estimate yield and N needs for winter cereals harvested for forage in the spring.

Field Research

A state-wide study with 62 on-farm trials investigated the spring N needs of forage winter cereals across New York from 2013 to 2016. Each trial had five rates of N (0, 30, 60, 90, and 120 lbs N/acre) applied to farmer-managed forage triticale, cereal rye, or winter wheat at green-up in the spring to determine the most economic rate of N (MERN). All forages were harvested at the flag-leaf stage in May each year. Soil samples were taken at green-up before fertilizer was applied. Farmers supplied information about management practices and field characteristics, such as past manure applications, planting date, and soil drainage. This information, in addition to soil fertility analysis results, was used to develop a decision tree model for predicting MERN classification.

Results

About one-third of the trials did not require additional N (MERN = 0), while the remainder responded to N and most required between 60 and 90 lbs N/acre (Figure 1). Yields at the MERN across trials ranged from 0.4 to 3.0 tons DM/acre (1.8 tons DM/acre average). Yield could not be accurately predicted based on information gathered, but the lower-yielding sites (< 1.0 tons of DM/acre) tended to be poorly or somewhat poorly drained and not have a recent manure history.

Farmer-reported soil drainage, manure history, and planting date were the most important predictors of the MERN (Figure 2). Most of the winter cereals grown on fields that were described as well-drained by the farmers did not require additional N at green-up. For the fields reported as somewhat poorly- or poorly-drained, 60 to 90 lbs N/acre were required if the field had not received manure the previous fall. If manure had been applied recently, 60 to 90 lbs N/acre were required for stands that were planted after October 1 versus 0 lbs N/acre if planting had taken place before October 1.

Forage winter cereal most economic rates of N (MERN) and yield at the MERN

Figure 1. Forage winter cereal most economic rates of N (MERN) and yield at the MERN for 62 N-rate trials in New York from 2013 to 2016. Fertilizer N was applied at spring green-up and forage was harvested at the flag-leaf stag in May.

Decision tree for forage winter cereal most economic rate of N (MERN) at spring green-up

Figure 2. Decision tree for forage winter cereal most economic rate of N (MERN) at spring green-up. If the indicated site or history factor in the blue box is true, move to the left branch in the tree; if false, move to the right branch. The predicted MERN is listed in the red boxes. Recent manure history refers to manure applied within the last year (either spring or fall). This decision tree correctly predicted MERN classifications for 78% of the trials included.

Forage winter cereal crude protein as impacted by N rate applied at spring green-up

Figure 3. Forage winter cereal crude protein as impacted by N rate applied at spring green-up for 62 trials in New York from 2013 to 2016. Forage was harvested at the flag-leaf stage in May.

Most forage quality parameters were not impacted by N rate. Neutral detergent fiber (NDF) at the MERN ranged from 42 to 60% of DM (52% average), in vitro true digestibility (IVTD) at the MERN ranged from 81 to 94% of DM (88% average), and NDFD digestibility (48-hour fermentation) at the MERN ranged from 67 to 84% of NDF (78% average). However, crude protein (CP) increased with N rate for most trials, even those with MERNs of 0. Crude protein averaged 13% of DM for the 0 lbs N/acre treatment and 20% of DM for the 120 lbs N/acre treatment (Figure 3). On average, CP increases by 1% for every 15-20 lbs of N applied. These findings suggest that additional N beyond the MERN can increase the CP levels of the forage while not impacting other forage quality parameters.

Conclusions and Implications

Results from this study emphasize the importance of growing conditions for optimum forage winter cereal performance. In fields that have poor drainage and lack recent manure histories, forage winter-cereals may not yield well and will likely require additional N inputs, while fields with well-drained soil conditions and better soil fertility will support higher yields and better forage quality without needing additional N in the spring. Planting date is also a critical management consideration. Planting late in the fall (after October 1 in this study), may result in lower yields (see also Lyons et al., 2018a). Timely planting (before October 1) in fields with good soil fertility and/or recent manure histories more often resulted in MERNs for N at green-up of 0 lbs N/acre, which would save farmers time and costs in the spring. Nitrogen management at green-up did not greatly affect forage quality except for CP, which increased with N addition even if the additional N did not increase spring yield.

Additional Resources

  • Lyons, S.E., Q.M. Ketterings, G.S. Godwin, J.H. Cherney, K.J. Czymmek, and T. Kilcer. 2018a. Spring N management is important for triticale forage performance regardless of fall management. What’s Cropping Up? 28(2): 34-35.
  • Lyons, S.E., Q.M. Ketterings, G.S. Godwin, K.J. Czymmek, S.N. Swink, and T. Kilcer. 2018b. Soil nitrate at harvest of forage winter cereals is related to yield and nitrogen application at green-up. What’s Cropping Up? 28(2): 32-33.

Acknowledgements

Cornell, Nutrient Management Spear Program, and Pro-Dairy logosThis work was supported by Federal Formula Funds, and grants from the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program (NNYADP), the USDA-NRCS, and Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NESARE). We would also like to thank participatory farmers and farm advisors for assisting with the trials, including Cornell Cooperative Extension educators, consultants, NRCS staff, and SWCD staff. 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/.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.

Subscribe By Email

This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Skip to toolbar