Oats, Planted Late, Continue to be Our Most Dependable Forage?!?!

Curt Stivison, Fairfield SWCD Engineering Technician
Stan Smith, OSU Extension Program Assistant, Fairfield County

Most know that for the past seven years, we’ve spent much time in Fairfield County investigating the virtues of oats as an annual forage when they are planted during mid to late summer, or even into early fall. While we’ve harvested from 2 to 5 tons, and consistently realized average yields of 3+ tons of dry matter from oats planted in July and August after a harvested wheat crop, it’s also apparent that yield and quality can vary greatly as planting date, nitrogen fertilization, and perhaps even oat varieties differ from each field planted.

For those looking to grow a cost-effective alternative forage crop yet this summer, and who have wheat stubble available, we offer these observations and recommendations based on experiences since 2002:

Optimum planting date for oats from the perspective of yield is the first week of August. Early August plantings also result in the highest total amount of TDN produced per acre. Later plantings will be slightly higher in quality, but not enough to offset the yield advantage of early August planting. While being more conducive to a mechanical harvest in early Fall, planting in early July reduces both yield and quality. The earlier oat plantings also exhibit more susceptibility to rust.

Regardless the planting date, or variety, no-tilled seeding rates of from 80 to 100 pounds of oats have consistently resulted in optimum forage yields.

Optimum nitrogen application rate is 40 to 50 pounds per acre. This application not only produces the highest yields, but at current values of nitrogen, it’s also the most cost effective rate. Higher rates of nitrogen actually appear to depress yields based on our 2008 plot results.

Bin run oats originating in Canada out perform, but possess similar quality at harvest as certified Armor oats.

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 and thus, rapidly decline in quality beginning 50 to 60 days after planting.

Oats harvested 50-60 days after planting and while still in the boot stage of maturity will offer regrowth that may be grazed or sometimes even mechanically harvested a second time.

A weed control application of glyphosate is a necessary and cost effective practice prior to oat planting.

An additional advantage observed when using oats for an annual forage crop is the opportunity to capture the total tonnage produced with a single harvest cutting if grazing is not an option. It’s also important to note that the 3+ ton yields resulting from oats planted in early August after wheat and straw harvest, which have been experienced consistently in Fairfield County, exceed the average yields of the perennial hay crops produced in Fairfield County and also Ohio, on average, over the same time period.

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