Several contrasts are becoming more apparent in our Farming Systems plots as spring progresses. With more growth, differences among treatments are accentuated. Many small grains that were planted in the fall in this trial had both an early and late planting, with the early fall planting thriving better across the board than the late fall planting.
The ongoing Farming Systems trial helps us analyze each crop in the context of a rotation. Sometimes we may not see the full effect of a crop until its successor’s performance can be evaluated.
In one system, we had MCT 5663 (a 106 day corn) during the summer of 2013. Half the plot was taken for grain and half for silage. In the half that was left for grain, the residue was chopped finely and spread over the area as mulch. In the other half, oats were planted in late fall, late for most small grains, let alone oats, which do all their growing in the fall. (These were oats that winterkill in our climate.)
Now, after a tough winter, there’s a striking difference, but perhaps not a surprising one. The half that had oats is much weedier than the half that was covered in corn residue mulch. This is simply because the mulch provided a thick ground cover, and the oats only had a chance to grow a few inches before they were winter killed, leaving mostly bare ground. As the picture shows, there is barely any oat residue left, and the small amount that had a chance to grow would have contributed little to suppression of winter annual or spring weeds.
If there’s time in the rotation, most small grains can benefit from a head start in the fall. Earlier plantings of every small grain weathered the harsh winter of 2013-14 much better than the later plantings, which show patchy growth, especially those that contained a less hardy element like oats or annual ryegrass.
The one that didn’t suffer visibly with the late fall planting was Huron Rye – it just looks a little smaller. This is expected, since rye is the hardiest small grain, usually the latest planted and the earliest harvested, since it has the capacity to grow in the coldest temperatures.
Everything comes back to timing; a month can mean twice as much growth or groundcover by spring, and every species has different timing requirements. Get to know your small grains and what they can tolerate.
Data was taken from our Lancaster County Plots. “Early” planting was September 18, 2013, and “late” planting was October 21, 2013.