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Planting more forages in 2023?
Dr. Victor Martin

The drought monitor report as of Tuesday, Jan. 24 indicates no change even with the precipitation received. The western half of the state is in extremely rough shape. Interestingly, with some of the recent moisture there is a small hole surrounded by abnormally dry conditions of good soil moisture from just east of Salina to just northwest of Manhattan. Again, there is little hope for any change in our area’s conditions in the short or even long term. The six to ten-day outlook (Jan. 31 to Feb. 4) indicates a 70 to 90% chance of below normal temperatures and 33 to 40% chance of above normal precipitation. The eight to 14-day outlook (Feb. 2 to 8) indicates a continued 50 to 60% chance of below normal temperatures and a continued 33 to 40% chance of above normal precipitation. Not much but much more active weather than last year at this time.

As of today, the long-range forecast isn’t promising for summer 2023 row crops. Average timely precipitation might allow producers to obtain acceptable grain yields but not enough to recharge the soil profile and eliminate drought conditions. 

And we know those timely rainfall events tend to be few and far between when we need them most – July through August and for soybeans into early September. What can producers do to obtain an acceptable yield in terms of quality, yield, and economically? One possible answer, depending on the operation, is producing forages, especially grass forages. This can be pasture, hay, or even silage.

Naturally, this depends on your operation. If you aren’t set up for hay you either have to obtain the equipment or hire it done. Both options aren’t cheap. Grazing eliminates the need for swathing and baling and might be a good option for those with cattle or can lease pasture out. The expenses, if not already in place would be fencing and water. For some, ensiling especially with forage sorghums or even corn, might be a good option if the costs of chopping and ensiling aren’t prohibitive. Why would this make sense? Several reasons.

• The costs for seed, fertilizer, etc. are lower than for corn, milo, and soybeans.

• Hay is short throughout this region of the country and prices are high, especially if you can transport it a distance. And many are, and will have to continue to supplement their lack of pasture with hay.

• While total herd numbers are down, there are still good numbers out there. From cow-calf to stockers they need forage. Many annual forages can provide good relative feed value as hay. True forage sorghums are an excellent feed source when ensiled properly.

• Think about the climate, native vegetation, and our row crops. Our climate is well-suited for producing vegetation but often struggle for good seed/grain production. So, with timely planting, proper fertilization, and good management, quality forages can be produced with acceptable yields, and there is an excellent market.

• Finally, there is a wide variety of available options for summer – Sudan grass, sorghum X sudan hybrids, forage sorghums, and even pearl millet. Hybrid pearl millet is an excellent forage under drought conditions, compensates well for spotty stands, and has a high feed value as it is predominately leave material with relatively little stem materials and lignins.   

This won’t solve everyone’s challenge and hopefully our weather pattern will improve, but it’s worth considering.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207, or