The growing season was shortened by about a month in the fall and again this spring. This was evident in our research plots, where small grains planted mid-September (about a month ahead of normal) looked optimal, and those planted at later dates struggled. Winter annuals were really put to the test this year, and differences in winter-hardiness were quite apparent. Ryes and triticales looked the best, as expected, and annual ryegrass in combination with a small grain grew well where it got shelter from a companion small grain. Crimson clover survived, especially in places where it was planted in the row with small grains, which really helped shelter it against the cold.
With the excessive cold this winter and late spring, everything will be pushed back. Evaluate fields at or before green up to make decisions. If growth looks good at the plant base, it should recover, and can be topdressed with N at green-up. This helps push rapid growth and tillering. If the stand is poor, a spring annual like oats or spring barley can be no-tilled into it, although this is already somewhat late, and the crop will be rushed. If there is not much yield, the crop can alternatively be considered a cover crop and terminated in time for a summer annual planting (or grazed hard on farms that can access the field with animals).
In a wheat field for grain, Greg Roth of Penn State Extension recommends at least 7-9 plants per foot of row at a minimum for an acceptable yield, since the plants tiller and somewhat compensate for a low stand.
If growing conditions are right, Roth recommends grazing small grains. This can provide the opportunity to rest other pastures until later in the spring, and provides a fresh, nutritious forage alternative to hay.
Start grazing once plants are 6-8 inches tall, and be careful to manage closely. Move animals quickly with backfencing, and do not overgraze if you plan to harvest for forage or grain. To preserve a good stand, the pasture will likely have to flash-grazed, with cattle moved several times a day.
Picking the right time to apply nitrogen to small grains at the point of green-up can be tricky, and depends on both weather and crop growth stage. Marvin Hall of Penn State advises that the best way to minimize losses is to apply nitrogen just before a ½ inch soaking rain. There will be fewer losses at colder temperatures, and even a brief period of warm up can increase losses by leaching and volatilization. Applying nitrogen at a point when the plant is actively growing of course makes a difference as well, though this usually coincides with warmer, not cooler temperatures. This minimizes time between application and plant uptake when N could be lost.
Fertilizer additives like urease inhibitors and nitrification inhibitors can be a good way to prevent nitrogen losses, but depending on conditions, they will not always be worth it.