INDIANA (WLFI) - Quite a lot of the state's double-crop soybeans are not supposed to reach maturity before the first killing freeze. This means the plants could be a forage option for livestock producers struggling to feed their animals.
An earlier-than-usual wheat harvest and dry spring conditions set the stage for farmers to plan this particular type of soybean farther north than what is typical.
But record-setting heat and drought prevented the crop from germinating at the right time, or germinating at all.
Soybeans that germinate late usually don't reach maturity, but they are a viable resource for the state's decimated livestock feed.
"Soybeans that won't reach physiological maturity before a killing freeze do have value as forage at the proper stage of maturity," said Keith Johnson, Purdue Extension forage specialist. "The crop should be harvested as a forage before green leaves begin to yellow."
Johnson says harvesting the crop and storing it in a silo is better, rather than harvesting it as hay. Doing this cuts down on the loss of leaves, which are the most viable part of the plant for feed.
Storing it also lessens the likelihood of rain damage, because the crop can be harvested as silage more quickly after cutting compared to making the soybean plant as hay.
Plus, storing it in a silo, or "ensiling," also helps animals utilize all parts of the plant and decreases feed waste.
"If chopped and ensiled, livestock will be less likely to sort out the lower quality stem, as compared to when soybeans are made and fed as long-stemmed hay," Johnson said.
Agricultural experts say putting animals out to graze in soybean fields can also be done, but it takes a lot more management and comes with risks.
"In my opinion, grazing soybean forage is risky because it is difficult to control selective grazing of immature grain," Johnson said. "Founder and off-feed problems could result if over-consumption of the seed occurs."
Johnson also said if pesticides were applied to their crops, farmers and should be careful. Pesticides have different restrictions, and are not registered for use when soybeans are used as a forage crop.
Double-crop soybean farmers who don't have livestock still might get the chance to make money off the crop with local livestock producers.
Pricing is driven by current alfalfa prices and the soybean crop's forage quality, and depends on who provides labor and equipment to harvest it.
"If the livestock producer is harvesting the crop, the soybean grower would need to subtract out the harvest custom rates from the value of the forage," Johnson said.
Farmers in southern Indiana are eligible to carry crop insurance on their soybeans.
Those who do not will need to check in with their insurance to get clearance before they cut the crop for forage.
Johnson says the biggest hurdle will be figuring out when the first killing freeze will roll through.
"We don't know when that killing freeze will occur until maybe three days beforehand, so it's important for growers to alert their crop insurance agents early if they are considering this option," he said.
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