Hay Your Freeze-Damaged Wheat To Minimise Losses

TEXAS – Wheat growers could look at baling/ensiling freeze damaged wheat and take advantage of high forage prices.
calendar icon 8 May 2013
clock icon 3 minute read

Growers are firstly being advised to assess how much forage/grain could be in the field and then to think about the crop’s potential as hay.

Extension advisers at Texas A&M AgriLife have reminded farmers of the fodder shortage in 2011 and the $360 a ton round hay bale prices.

“When it turns dry, people get desperate, and that hay can be worth quite a bit,” Dr Larry Redmon said. “Back in 2011 during the drought, the last round-bales of hay into Abilene were priced at $180 a bale. If the bales weighed 1,000 pounds, that’s $360 a ton. I would use current market prices to start figuring the crop’s potential as hay.”

Dr. Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension agronomist in Lubbock, said there is no substitute for getting out and assessing a field to see how much damage is there and knowing what potential it has.

“Yes, for many fields we know now or will soon know that they may not be worth carrying to grain,” Dr Trostle said. “And how much grain is ‘worth it’ if we have to keep irrigating: 15 or 20 or 25 or 30 bushels per acre?”

A producer will have to determine how much forage tonnage they can expect to get from their damaged wheat crop, and there’s not simple method to do that, the experts said.

“I don’t have a simple means to gauge the approximate tonnage of a wheat field or other small-grain forage field,” Dr Trostle said. “You eye it and estimate, though it is an educated estimate.”

Dr Redmon says if it was a pasture, forage would be estimated by taking a 12-inch quadrant and cut, dry and weigh the forage in that quadrant to extrapolate pounds per acre. But with a drilled crop, generally grown on 7- to 8-inch rows, that measurement has to be tweaked a little.

“Estimating forage for crops planted in rows requires adjustments for row spacing to arrive at a reasonable estimate,” he said.

Then the producer has to compare the tonnage of hay possible from an acre to the possible wheat grain yield. Grazing freeze-damaged wheat, which is most likely a bearded variety, at this point is not a likely option, except for wheat in the northern Panhandle. The emergence of bearded heads greatly reduces the feed-usability of the forage due to the awns.

“How much hay could we get off an acre – maybe a ton, which might be worth $125 up to $180 a ton, depending on how the rest of the year goes,” Dr Redmon said. “Versus, if they harvest 10 bushels of wheat, they would get $7 per bushel – so the hay harvest looks good.”

Some of the questions to be considered, Dr Trostle said, are: What are hay prices? Who pays for haying? What are silage prices? If silage price includes a percent crude protein criterion, will the price be discounted heavily if percent crude protein is not met?

Also, Dr Trostle notes a hidden “cost” of forage production – one that wheat grain growers may not have factored in their consideration – is the amount of nutrients moved off the field in the forage. Depending on the wheat growth stage, it could cost $30 to $50 to replace the nitrogen and other nutrients leaving the field in a ton of dry wheat hay.

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