UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Pennsylvania growers should consider changes in farm management this year in response to rainy weather that has impacted the planting of planned cash crops, according to a Penn State forage specialist.

“Weather patterns during the 2019 planting and growing season have presented severe, seldom-before-encountered challenges to farmers, said Jessica Williamson, assistant professor of forage management in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “The inability to plant planned cash crops has triggered some necessary changes in farm management.”

Williamson pointed to a recent statement released by the Cornell University, saying the U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management Association rules have been changed so that in addition to harvest by grazing or for hay after Sept. 1, cover crops may now also be harvested for silage, haylage or baleage and meet the full prevented planting payments as long as harvest for silage, haylage or baleage takes place after Sept. 1.

For farmers, the rule changes present a chance to salvage a partial crop that can be used as emergency feed to support animals that may otherwise have to be sold. Agronomic experts from land-grant institutions are being asked to provide statements for inclusion of corn silage among crops that can be used based on relevant factors to their state.

As Williamson explained, a cover crop is intended to provide environmental and agronomic benefits to a cropping system, including soil conservation and ground cover, reduction of weed growth and uptake of nitrogen and other nutrients. It is an increasingly common practice to harvest a crop that is typically considered a cover crop such as winter cereals for livestock forage as such practice meets the stated goals of a cover crop, while providing additional forage.

The USDA risk management assessment states that, "For crop insurance purposes, a cover crop is a crop generally recognized by agricultural experts as agronomically sound for the area for erosion control or other purposes related to conservation or soil improvement." Corn on prevented planting acres meets these objectives.

Williamson noted that approval from a crop insurance adjuster is necessary to use corn as a cover crop on prevented planting acres before managing or planting any prevented planting acres. The operation’s economic and environmental benefits must be weighed when deciding management for prevented planting acres. Determining the potential for forage harvest in combination with capital and labor inputs to successfully establish a cover crop should be evaluated.

"It is also important to verify the terms of any technology agreements you have signed for seed already purchased or purchased for this purpose," according to the Cornell release. "It is a violation of the technology agreement and therefore illegal to plant grain (seed) that was harvested from a GMO-corn crop."

Williamson shared the following agronomic principles detailed within the release, regarding the use of corn for ensiled forage on prevented planting acres:

Plant population: Higher populations lead to faster ground cover and help with weed suppression. Minimum populations upwards of 35,000 plants/acre are suggested.

Narrow-row spacing: Though traditional row spacing of corn meets the stated goals, using a narrower row corn planter (less than 30 inches), twin-row planter or a grain drill can lead to faster ground cover by the corn canopy and improved weed suppression 

Planting into residue: Seeding into fields with less than 30% residue provides some ground cover between planting and canopy establishment.

Pesticides: Herbicides should be used to help with weed control. Use care about pre-grazing and/or pre-harvest restrictions after Sept. 1. Also consider rotation restrictions for 2020 as a two-month delay from normal application timing may extend rotation restrictions beyond normal planting time in 2020.

Nitrogen: The most important nitrogen applied to corn is the first 40 pounds to 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre. This may not be needed if nitrogen credits from manure or other sources apply. The high nitrogen uptake of corn makes it especially well-suited where manure has already been applied. When manure is still to be applied, rates on Prevented Planting acres should not exceed two-thirds of the planned full season rates.

Finally, Williamson explained that July plantings are not expected to produce mature grain in much of Pennsylvania. A killing frost usually occurs in early to mid-October in most of the state. If grain is produced and kernels develop beyond the milk to dough (R3-R4) stage, the crop should be terminated to follow RMA guidelines.

For more information, Williamson suggested viewing the Cornell release at https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/blogs.cornell.edu/dist/6/8472/files/2019/06/Silage-Rule-Change-rev-6-28-2019.pdfor the following links https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/grain/files/2019/06/2019_06-RMALetter-CornSoybeanAsCoverCrop.pdf and https://www.rma.usda.gov/en/Fact-Sheets/National-Fact-Sheets/Prevented-Planting-Insurance-Provisions-Flood.