Wet conditions this spring mean many producers weren't able to plant a cash crop.
Many of these fields will qualify for the Preventive Planting Program, and producers will plant a crop to cover the soil. However, this crop cannot be harvested, manipulated or grazed until after Nov. 1 or producers will see a substantial loss in their prevented plant indemnity payment.
"They do have some options for using these lands to create a cost-effective forage mixture that ranchers can use to graze livestock after Nov. 1 while providing a cover crop that will improve organic matter, increase water-holding capacity and add nitrogen to the soil profile," says Kevin Sedivec, North Dakota State University Extension Service rangeland specialist.
Studies in North Dakota have shown great potential for late-season grazing using selected annual forages seeded in early to mid-July. Forage mixtures with brassicas (turnip, radish, rape, canola) and cool-season cereal grains (oats, barley, triticale, rye, wheat) provide high-quality feed that retains palatability and quality through mid-December. Research from NDSU's Central Grasslands Research Extension Center has shown nonlactating cows grazing these types of forages gain 1.5 to 2.5 pounds per day in November and early December, depending on weather conditions.
The most cost-effective, high-forage-producing mixture for late-season grazing appears to be a seed mixture of "Pasja" turnip, oilseed radish, conventional oats and foxtail millet. Sedivec recommends a mixture of 0.75 pound of turnip, 1 pound of radish, 15 pounds of oats and 4 pounds of foxtail millet. The turnip, radish and oats provide a high-quality, low-fiber feed, while the foxtail millet provides a fiber source for proper rumen function.
"Providing a fiber-source feedstuff to ruminant livestock such as cattle and sheep is important when grazing turnips and radish," he says. "If you want to add a legume to this mixture, use a low-cost, fast-germinating type."
Legumes planted in a cocktail-type of mixture in July and August rarely produce more than 200 pounds per acre, creating a high-cost seed for little return. A good legume to plant in this type of mixture would be field or forage peas at 10 pounds per acre, according to Sedivec.
This seed mixture should cost approximately $8 to $10 per acre and produce 1.5 to 4 tons per acre, depending on location. If adding peas to the mixture, expect an additional cost of $2.50 to $3 per acre.
Producers should seed this type of forage mixture for late-season grazing in mid to late July, and no later than early August. The mixture should receive 45 to 60 days of growth before a killing freeze to provide adequate production.