Research conducted at Eli Weaver Meadow View Farm, Leola, Lancaster County, PA
When comparing small grain forages, we consider both yield and timing window to make sure the forage is the best choice in the rotation as a whole. Timing of both planting and harvest have to be considered, along with the expected forage yield. Our small grain trials over the 2013-2014 winter annual season showed us that if you’re planting late, past mid-October, either spelt or rye can be good choices. Winter cereal rye has the best winter survival and growth under very cold conditions, and often provides the greatest amount of growth for an early harvest. The time needed for spelt to reach forage maturity is longer than rye, and requires a later harvest window in the spring. The growing windows of winter cereal rye and winter spelt differ, giving us an opportunity to spread out harvest windows, which can in turn spread risk, distribute our labor, and line us up for variable rotation options. Spelt provides a high quality alternative and reasonably high yields – but only if time allows in your rotation for a late spring harvest (rye is usually cut in early spring).
Notice in the table below that even the late planted winter Huron rye, (which was planted 33 days later than the early planted rye), still only delayed harvest date of 5 days. The heading date of the later planted Huron rye was only 5 days later in the spring even though it was planted over a month later in the fall. This illustrates Rye’ s tendency to still be an early header and reaches boot stage early compared to other small grain forages even when it is planted relatively later in the fall.
When choosing a small grain, placement of the growing window in the rotation is just as critical as the length of its growing season. For example, a winter barley crop may allow a double cropping rotation with corn, or even a triple crop rotation with sorghum-sudan and oats, but the later spelt harvest would interfere with timely corn planting (but may be perfect for double cropping with a sorghum).
Three spelts were compared – Sungold, Comet, and Oberkulmer (in order from early to late).
They were planted October 22, 2013, and harvested May 30 and 31, 2014 (220 and 221 days after planting).
Boot Stage Cuts
Dry Matter yields of Oberkulmer Spelt (3.30 T/A) and Comet Spelt (3.52 T/A) were comparable to triticales (ranging from 2.99 – 3.84 T/A DM)and winter barley (3.2 – 3.48 T/A DM) during the same growing year and location. Spelt takes longer to reach harvest maturity in the spring, though it is important to remember that it was planted later in the fall – about a month later than the earlier planted winter barley, triticale and rye. Triticales averaged 238 days of growth at this research location during the 2013-2014 growing season; high-yielding barley also had 238 days of growth, and our highest yielding rye (3.12 T/A DM) grew for 231 days – making these spelts exceptional yielders for their time in the ground. Though they appear to take longer to reach maturity, this is was simply a result of their planting windows being shifted later.
|Crop & Variety
(Days After Planting)
|Table Top Height
|Dry Matter Yield
|Early planted Huron Rye
|Late Planted Huron Rye
Quality numbers such as NDFd (ranging from 66.1 – 70.3) are slightly lower than many other small grains, which may be a result of growing later into the warm season (heat seems to encourage lignin production). More importantly, though, spelts were among the tallest small grains sampled. Only Triticale 141 and Triticale 718, ranging from 44-47 inches average extended height, were taller than the spelts, while Oberkulmer Spelt averaged 44.17 inches extended, and Comet Spelt averaged 42.25 inches extended.
Sungold Spelt was bred as a food-grade grain spelt, so it is shorter in height, lower in forage yield, and earlier in maturity than the other spelts. From this trial, however, we saw that it also had higher forage quality at boot stage (because of time constraints, we were not able to sample it at soft dough stage). And it was sampled at Feekes stage 10-10.5, which means there was some partial head emergence, while the other two spelts had little to no head emergence – and still ranked higher for quality. This advantage was likely a result of its short stature – the shorter the small grain, the less cell wall content (or indigestible fiber/lignin) is needed to support the plant and grain head. As would be expected, we noticed the least lodging in the Sungold Spelt, occasional lodging in the Comet Spelt, and the most frequent lodging in the Oberkulmer – lodging increased with increasing height (though most lodging was noted at soft dough stage, not at boot stage sampling).
The lodged areas, as a general rule also seemed slower to mature (green stalks/closer the milk stage when the surrounding area, especially areas with sparser population, was mostly brown and at soft dough stage).
Tradeoff between yield and quality is a theme in small grains and many other forages, but it’s often referred to in the context of timing – boot stage is where yield and quality coincide, and more growth time after boot stage increases yield, but quality decreases.
This case illustrates that it is also a theme in the context of plant height. It’s a straightforward concept but an important one – greater height correlates with higher yield but lower quality. This is not uniformly the case, but simply a trend that we observe. (However, plant leafiness and tillering – which make up the general density of the stand – is often just as important a factor in yield, and also contributes to higher quality.) Greater height without lignin, on the other hand, may mean high quality but problems with lodging.