March 1, 2006 | By: Laura Skillman

This year’s University of Kentucky small grains variety trials will not only be checking for their potential to produce grain but also for their potential as a forage crop for livestock.

“The reason I got into it from a forage variety standpoint is that I started looking at the annual wheat acreage in Kentucky, which is approximately 500,000 acres, but one-third of that is not harvested for grain and is utilized for other purposes such as forage production and basic cover cropping,” said Bill Bruening, coordinator of the UK College of Agriculture’s small grains performance testing program. “There’s a large segment of wheat growers who would benefit from this information.”

While wheat and barley are primarily grown as grain crops in Kentucky, they can be used for grazing, green chop silage or hay production when managed properly, as can rye and triticale. Plus, they benefit the grower and environment by acting as a winter cover crop reducing soil erosion.

Small grains have tremendous forage potential with high quality and digestibility in the vegetative stage, but quality rapidly declines as they go through the reproductive growth phase, Bruening said. Wheat and barley maintain their quality longer than rye and triticale, which need to be harvested by the late boot stage. Wheat and barley maintain good quality through the bloom stage, which allows additional dry matter accumulation and flexibility at harvest time in the event that conditions at boot stage are unfavorable for harvest.

Some advantages to using small grains for forage is that they can be double cropped with corn or soybeans. With corn it is a little close depending on when you are cutting the wheat, but you can certainly get in full season soybeans, he said. This allows a producer to get a forage crop as well as a grain crop off the same field in one year.

Some growers might want to graze small grains in the fall, and studies have shown that it has little effect on spring forage or grain harvest. Another advantage is that it is a dependable crop because it grows mostly in the spring when there is abundant soil moisture. It provides high-quality forage when other reserve sources have declined in quality and can be chopped and stored in silos when most corn silage has been used, extending the usefulness of the silo, Bruening said. It can also be baled for hay or baled and wrapped in plastic for baled silage.

“Small grain variety testing programs in other states conduct forage evaluations and have shown that there are differences between varieties as they relate to forage yields and quality,” he said. “I felt it was important to get that information out to our growers.”

Bruening will get a hand at harvest time from Gene Olsen with UK’s forage variety testing program. The forage team has the specialized equipment needed to harvest the plots.

“We have a really strong forage program here at UK,” he said. “The UK forage group and the USDA animal/forage unit on campus are an excellent resource and present opportunities for collaborative research in this area.”

The 2006 forage test will evaluate 76 wheat, four rye, four barley and four triticale entries. The test contains mostly wheat because of its importance, acreage-wise, in Kentucky, he said. The other small grain crops were added to the test for species comparison and because they are also being used for forage purposes.

Most state programs evaluate just a handful of small grain varieties for forage potential. But Bruening decided to include all varieties being evaluated in UK’s grain production performance tests. Utilizing all varieties from the grain tests will provide an evaluation of most varieties available to growers. It also provides seed companies with performance information that may be useful in marketing a variety’s particular strengths.

In addition to evaluating wheat varieties for grain and forage performance, the program is also testing for varietal differences in straw yields after the grain is harvested.

The results will be released as part of the annual small grains variety performance bulletin and may be released through additional venues as well. The forage performance evaluation will likely become a regular part of the small grains variety testing program.

“Given the importance of forages in Kentucky, I look for it to be an ongoing process, and it’s just going to be fine-tuned and refined as time goes by,” Bruening said.


Bill Bruening, (859) 257-5020, ext. 80802