Fostering Innovation: How to Create Better Winter Forage to Save Money and Improve the Environment.

The best land management practices have long included winter cover crops to prevent erosion. The challenge? Cover crops cost money to establish in the fall, and cost money to stop in the spring. Tom Kilcer with Advanced Ag Systems has been building knowledge that will protect the environment and put money in the bank.

This article was developed for the 2015 annual report. More information about Tom Kilcer’s work in double cropping can be found here.

Several years ago, Kilcer had a question. Can NY farmers profitably grow winter forage? Since then NYFVI has funded several projects helping him determine which crops are best for our seasons and soils, when to plant, when to harvest, and what’s the best timing for nitrogen.

In short, he’s been steadily developing a set of best management practices (BMPs) for winter forage management, and more and more New York farmers are starting to grow these crops and realize the benefits.
In 2010, there were less than 2500 acres of winter triticale planted. In 2014, in Western New York alone, there were more than 25,000 acres planted yielding an estimated 200,000 tons of very high-quality forage.

Not surprisingly, his work has implications for summer forage as well. To maximize the potential value of winter forage, the summer feed crop season needs to be shorter. His most recent project has found that winter triticale and summer energy crops like short season BMR sorghum or highly digestible shorter season corn silage varieties can produce 25-35% more forage per acre than a single crop planting system. There are no highly digestible BMR corns that are less than 90 days – the length of summer season available between optimum winter forage for much of NY. As a result, Kilcer has been researching BMPs for highly digestible BMR forage sorghum. The double cropping system with triticale also performs well even on marginal lands.

Tom Kilcer with Advanced Agriculture Systems

“In the east we need to use every piece of land we have. Tom’s research in sorghum solves marginal land issues and helps us avoid the challenge of deer. Winter cropping is a good land management practice and it can put some money in the bank.”

Brian Chittenden, Dutch Hollow Farm

The triticale also performs well even on marginal lands. Sorghum has also proven to be a good solution for farmers who struggle with deer in their cornfields since sorghum doesn’t seem to be as attractive as corn.
Winter triticale is a highly nutritious feed for dairy cattle yielding 50% more milk per ton of dry matter than high-fiber corn silage.

Moreover, the timing of the winter forage crop is highly beneficial for nutrient management, opening up new environmentally sound manure application windows. Research found that subsequent crops in the same field delivered an increased yield, and nitrates in drainage water were reduced by more than 20%.

The production practices for sorghum are also environmentally sound as the narrow planting rows minimize erosion.

Winter forage: Good for the cows, good for the land and good for the farmer.