Summer annuals can combat decreased forage production

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pearl millet

Summer can be a challenging time of year for livestock producers. This time of year, when forage production drops is known as the summer slump.

Getting through this time period without using up hay stockpiles normally reserved for the winter months requires careful planning. This is where one may consider summer annuals. 

Summer annuals are just like the name suggests. These forages must be planted every year and are best suited to the warmest time of year. They thrive when our cool-season grasses, such as orchard grass, tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, start to slow in production or go dormant.

Summer annuals such as sorghum x sudangrass, pearl millet and teff grass are all good choices for our northern climate.      

The establishment of these summer annuals may not be as difficult as you might expect. Other than teff grass, most summer annuals can be planted with a no-till grain drill with great success.

Control grasses and or sods with herbicide or short clipping. Drill seed to a depth of ½ to 1 inch. Fertilize per soil sample results and or recommendations, with an emphasis on nitrogen requirements.

Seeded into soil temperatures of 65 degrees and higher coupled with an aggressive nutrient management plan, these summer annuals will produce a remarkable amount of dry matter.

Most of these crops are harvested as silage or grazed, but some do make high quality dry hay. Teff grass grown for dry hay is gaining in popularity among equestrians. Palatability and the absence of toxins are just a couple of reason horse owners are seeking out this crop.

Summer annuals can be great crops to grow. With relatively low input costs, they can have a very high return on investment. Growing them either out of necessity (because we need the feed) or growing them as another income source, they can fill the need.

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Joe Mayle is one of the agronomic/natural resources technicians with the Carroll Soil and Water Conservation District. He holds an associate’s degree in crop management from The Ohio State University/Agricultural Technical Institute. Contact him at 330-627-9852 or joe.mayle@carrollswcd.org.

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