Crops and Forages
OSU Extension Service develops programs based on science-based, objective information to help Oklahomans solve problems, promote leadership and manage resources wisely. Below are resources that provide information about crops and forages in Oklahoma.
Winter wheat is the most important crop in Oklahoma agriculture. Annually, it occupies over one-half of the cash receipts from crops. Wheat ranks second in value to the cattle and calf industry, an industry which itself depends heavily on wheat for winter pasture. Nationally, Oklahoma ranks second in the production of winter wheat and third in total wheat production.
Successful, profitable wheat farming today demands that the producer have a thorough knowledge of the crop and the cultural and environmental factors that influence its growth. The correct management decisions made at the proper time can greatly influence the wheat grower's success.
- Production Practices
Seed quality is probably the most overlooked or underrated factor in wheat production. Good quality seed has good germination, is genetically and mechanically pure, and is free of weed seeds and other contaminants. Poor quality seed can reduce production or production efficiency in three ways.
- Poor Stands: The effect of poor stands on production is obvious, and if replanting is necessary, production efficiency is reduced. Planting low viability seed can result in poor stands. The cause of low seed viability is usually in adequate storage conditions or disease.
- Weed Infestation: Seed wheat is a common avenue for the introduction of weeds into production fields. Many farmers unknowingly plant weeds with their wheat. This practice can result in: (1) the contamination of a previously weed-free field, (2) the introduction of new weed species, and (3) the perpetuation of weed control problems. A recent survey in Oklahoma revealed that the average farmer plants 24 weed seed with every pound of wheat seed.
- Genetic purity: The presence of different plant types (i.e. maturity, plant height) is often a result of genetic impurity or varietal contamination and may depress yields.
For a guaranteed level of quality, Oklahoma certified seed is the best choice. Since certified classes of seed are somewhat more expensive, only a small percent of the total acreage in Oklahoma is sown to them. The majority of farmers still plant their own seed or seed obtained from a neighbor. Before planting seed from personal stock or an uncertified source, producers should check for cleanliness, germination and freedom from disease. If cleaning is necessary, the seed cleaner should be free of rye or jointed goatgrass seeds that are not easily separated form wheat.
Diseases of wheat such as seed rots, seedling blights, common bunt and loose smut can be greatly reduced or prevented by treating the seed with fungicides. The effectiveness of the treatment depends on selecting the right chemical and applying it properly.
Most wheat producers recognize the importance of careful variety selection. There are several varieties and hybrids today representing a range in varietal characteristics and yield performance. Plant maturity, height, straw strength, winter hardiness and disease and insect resistance should be considered. Each trait contributes to the overall yield of a variety. The best sources of information on varietal performance and adaptability for Oklahoma are the Current Reports of the wheat variety testing program of the OSU Agricultural Extension Service and Agronomy Department. It is recommended that at least three years' data be used, with particular emphasis given to data obtained from the specific region of the state in which the crop will be grown.
Caution should be used when selection is based on testimonials, a few good looking heads, or even a single year's data. If a variety is obtained under these conditions, plant only a very small acreage to serve as an on-farm test. The following is a list of the top-performing varieties in Oklahoma County.
- 2163 is a semidwarf hard red winter wheat developed and released by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. It is high yielding, has fair test weight and has better straw strength than most varieties. 2163 is resistant to Hessian Fly and moderately resistant to soil borne mosaic virus, leaf rust stem rust and powdery mildew.
- 2180 is an awned semidwarf hard red winter wheat developed and released by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. 2180 is resistant to Hessian Fly, moderately resistant to soil borne mosaic virus and leaf rust, moderately susceptible to stem rust and susceptible to powdery mildew.
- Custer hard red winter wheat was developed by the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station and released in the Spring of 1994. It is a semidwarf variety with medium-early maturity. It has good leaf rust resistance and satisfactory milling and baking quality. Custer is adapted throughout Oklahoma. Custer features high yields and leaf rust resistance and exhibits good grain protein and test weight. Custer out-yielded all check varieties in Oklahoma tests conducted in 1992 and 1993.
- Jagger is a very early maturing, moderately short variety with good straw strength. It has fair winterhardiness similar to Hawk and Newton. Jagger has good protection to many of the important wheat diseases. It is susceptible to Hessian fly and powdery mildew. Grain has average test weights with acceptable milling and baking qualities. Jagger was developed by Kansas and the USDA-ARS.
- Tomahawk's strengths are in its yields and resistance to soilborne mosaic virus and tan spot. It is rated as average in its maturity, straw strength and winterhardiness as well as its resistance to leaf rust and powdery mildew diseases.
Alfalfa is one of Oklahoma's most important crops, occupying about 400,000 acres and generating $100-200 million in direct sales. Higher monetary values are cited when the "value-added" aspects of animal products are included.
- Alfalfa Overview
The yield of alfalfa and stand life depend on many management decisions. Low soil fertility and use of inferior varieties are the most frequently identified production problems. Both the variety and the soil fertility determine alfalfa yield, stand persistence and forage quality. Good alfalfa varieties, frown with appropriate fertilizer applications, maintain thick stands and produce high yields of excellent quality hay.
Choosing which variety to sow is one of the few irreversible management decisions for alfalfa producers. That choice has an important impact on hay yields, degree of insect and disease resistance, and stand longevity, all which affect profits. OSU conducts alfalfa variety evaluations throughout the state to assist producers with decisions related to variety choices.
The following varieties consistently produce the highest yields in Oklahoma. In addition to high yields, stands of recommended varieties persist well. The best alfalfa varieties, according to our date are: OK 49; Good As Gold; ICI 630; ICI 645; Aggressor; Arrow; and Cimarron VR> These are proven multiple pest-resistant varieties and are the best over a wide variety of environments. For varieties to be considered for recommendation they must perform well, and there is a good likelihood that seed will be marketed in the state.
- Alfalfa Varieties
Good As Gold, marketed by Johnston Seed Co., was developed by Dairyland Seeds and has resistance to the important pests in Oklahoma. Like other recommended alfalfa varieties, Good As Gold has been tested at several locations during many different growing seasons. This is a multiple-pest resistant variety that couples high yield with good stand persistence.
ICI 630 and ICI 645, marketed by ICI Seeds, Inc., have been tested in Oklahoma for several years in different trials. They have resistance to several diseases found in Oklahoma and to spotted alfalfa aphid. Even though ICI 630 and ICI 645 were developed in completely different breeding programs, they are similar in having excellent persistence in the older trials.
Arrow and Aggressor were developed by A.B.I. and marketed with the trade mark of America's Alfalfa. Both of these are relatively new to this recommended list. Arrow and Aggressor have resistance to the major diseases in this area and resistance to aphids.
Cimarron VR, was developed and is marketed by Great Plains Research. Both have been tested in Oklahoma for many years. Their persistence has been good. Cimarron VR and Cimarron possess resistance to the important insect and disease pests in Oklahoma and perform similarly.
- Alfalfa Stand Establishment
The objective of alfalfa stand establishment is to obtain about 30 vigorously growing seedlings per square before extreme weather conditions prevail. Good planning, along with some "art" and "good farming" practices are critical to reliable stand establishment. Although the exact steps required for successful stand establishment vary from farm to farm and from year to year, there are 12 Keys included in the Alfalfa Establishment Checklist. Each Key is briefly discussed to answer frequently asked questions.
- Alfalfa Establishment Checklist
- Site Selection
Choose a deep, fertile, well-drained soil.
- Soil Test
Apply fertilizer and lime according to a reliable soil analysis.
- Land Preparation
Plow, level, and drain low areas well before sowing.
- Seedbed Refinement
Develop a level, mellow, firm bed with small clods.
- Variety Choice
Select adapted, pest-resistant varieties.
- Seed Quality
Use weed-free, clean seed with good germination.
- Planting Date
Sow during Aug. 15 to Sept. 15 or March 15 to April 15.
- Seed Placement
Cover seeds with 1/2" soil and press.
- Sowing Rate
Plant 10-12 lbs./ac. of good seed.
- Planting Equipment
Calibrate and adjust planters to place seed in a good environment.
- Seed Inoculation
Use rhizobium bacteria, specific for alfalfa.
- Pest Control
Control weeds, insects, and diseases.
- Site Selection
Bermudagrass will grow under a wide range of soil conditions, but it is best adapted to well-drained sites. Bermudagrass is less sensitive to soil pH than many forage species but typically responds to lime applications when soil pH falls below 5.0.
Bermudagrass establishment is most successful when a firm, moist, well-prepared seedbed is used. Rolling will ensure good soil contact with seed sprigs and enhance soil moisture conditions during dry weather.
Bermudagrass may be established either by planting seed or sprigs (stolons and/or rhizomes). Seeded varieties of bermudagrass are easily established, and one variety, Guymon, is cold hardy. Vegetatively established varieties such as Midland, Tifton 44, Hardie, and Greenfield have varying degrees of cold hardiness and length of time required for coverage following establishment. Purchase and plant the highest quality seed or sprigs that you can and pay particular attention to the variety. Some varieties, such as Coastal, are only adapted to extreme southern Oklahoma. Sprigs should be moist, fresh, and of the known variety you wish to establish. Seeded varieties are usually planted at 4 to 8 pounds of pure live seed per acre; vegetatively propagated varieties are usually sprigged at rates of 15 to 30 bushels per acre. Higher seed or sprig rates may result in faster stand establishment under some conditions.
Weed control may be important in the successful establishment of bermudagrass. Grazing or mowing bermudagrass during the establishment phase may help control weeds and provide cattle with forage of high nutritive value. In some instances, a pre-emergent herbicide for control of broadleaf weeds may be necessary along with a post-emergent treatment.
- Improving Established Bermudagrass
Old bermudagrass stands may be revitalized with less effort and cost than is required for planting new stands. Therefore, before investing money in re-sprigging or planting alternate forage crops, a producer should first compare the economics of improving their existing resources.
The primary reason for a weak bermudagrass stand is inadequate soil fertility. When properly fertilized, bermudagrass will often crowd out most weed species and maintain a vigorous, healthy stand. Without proper fertility, bermudagrass pastures can become weed infested. This results in a reduced carrying capacity of the management unit and decreased animal performance.
Effective herbicidal weed control requires proper identification of target weed species, selection of the most effective herbicide, and treatment at the appropriate time. Regardless of the herbicide used, always follow label directions.
Some producers believe that bermudagrass yields may be increased by soil aeration, and they periodically till pastures to relieve what is often referred to as a "sodbound" or "rootbound" condition. A three-year study at Chickasha, Oklahoma found that disking or chiseling caused severe yield reductions in 4 out of 6 tests and no significant increase of forage was noted.
The most critical aspects of managing bermudagrass are a proper fertility program, stage of maturity at harvest, and in the case of grazing, the stocking rate. The producer has complete control over these management options and careful attention to all three can result in a profitable bermudagrass-based enterprise.
Decisions regarding fertilizer should generally be to either apply no fertilizer or fertilize for optimum production. In many cases, it may be more economical and efficient to increase the fertilizer rate on fewer acres of better ground. The amount of production may equal or be even higher, but expenses may be reduced. Reasonable nitrogen fertilizer rates appear to be 150 to 200 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre in split applications of 50 pounds each for grazing or one application for early summer hay production.
Ideally, the grazing management should be designed to ensure that bermudagrass is harvested at an optimum stage of maturity based on the kind and class of animals that will consume the forage. For growing animals, the accumulated bermudagrass forage should not exceed three weeks of age. When considering bermudagrass for either a hay harvest or grazing by mature animals, accumulated bermudagrass should not be in excess of 4 to 5 weeks of age.
Bermudagrass that is overly mature will have low nutritive value, and protein supplementation will be necessary to meet maintenance and/or growth requirements for certain classes of livestock.
Bermudagrass, where adapted, can play a vital role in livestock production programs. The species has the ability to tolerate a wide range of growing conditions and is more tolerant of close grazing and relatively heavy stocking rates than many other forage grasses.
Bermudagrass also has the ability to produce large quantities of dry matter for either grazing or hay. However, it is not a magic plant. Bermudagrass does require a sound fertility program and other management inputs. Given the management it requires, bermudagrass can provide the warm-season perennial grass base for a profitable production system.
Old World Bluestems
Much of the cropland in Oklahoma is poorly suited to grain production because the soils are low in fertility and highly erodible. These factors, coupled with unfavorable economics of wheat production, have prompted some producers to search for other uses for these lands. The establishment of permanent forages for beef pasture appears to be a promising alternative. In the past, these areas were revegetated with native range mixtures, weeping lovegrass or bermudagrass. In recent years, however, producer interest in a group of grasses known collectively as Old World bluestems, has increased greatly.
- Introduced Grasses
Old World bluestems include several species of warm-season grasses that were introduced from Europe and Asia from 1920-1965. These grasses have been studied extensively in Oklahoma for the last 40 years, but producer interest was not widespread until quite recently.
Old World bluestems are warm-season bunch grasses that possess good forage potential for the southern Great Plains. These grasses respond well to fertilization, are drought and cold tolerant for the most part, withstand close grazing, and are palatable to cattle. Old World bluestems are not closely related to the native big and little bluestem grasses found throughout Oklahoma.
The six most common cultivars for use in Oklahoma include: 'Caucasian', 'Ganada', 'King Ranch', 'Plains', 'WW-Spar', and 'WW-Iron Master'. Caucasian and King Ranch have been commercially available for over 20 years, whereas Plains, Ganada, WW-Spar and Iron Master are more recent releases.
- Stand Establishment
Old World bluestems are best adapted to loam or clay-loam soils. Stand establishment on sandy or sandy-loam clay soils is more risky, but usually can be obtained. Seeding should be on a firm seedbed either by broadcasting the seed or planting at shallow depths (1/4" or less). Seeding rates of 1 to 3 pounds pure live seed per acre are generally recommended. The best results have been obtained when seeding was done with a drill specifically designed to handle "fluffy" grass seeds.
Recent developments in seeding, such as using the bare, "caryopses" and lo-till planting into "grazed-out" wheat, warrant attention for future plantings. More specific information on the establishment of Old World bluestems can be found in Extension Fact Sheet No. 2581- Reseeding Marginal Cropland to Perennial Grasses.
- Grazing Season
Old World bluestems typically begin growth in late-April. As with other warm-season grasses, most of the forage production from Old World bluestems occurs by mid-July. However, these introduced bluestems are more responsive to late-summer and fall precipitation than are the native grasses. As such, substantial regrowth can occur in August and September when moisture is available. In general, Caucasian and WW-Spar attain peak production earlier in the summer than does Plains. Plains is a mixture of 30 different varieties each maturing at slightly different times, thus a longer green grazing season is present than in the other cultivars.
- Hay Production and Value
Limited studies have been conducted on the value of Old World bluestem hay. These studies indicated that, when properly fertilized and harvested at the appropriate stage of growth, high yields of good quality hay (10 to 16% crude protein) can be obtained. Caucasian, WW-Spar and Plains bluestem stands have produced as much as 3 to 4 tons of hay/acre with an in-vitro dry matter digestibilities of 57, 61 and 60 percent, respectively. Steers fed good quality Caucasian bluestem hay, supplemented with adequate protein, gained over 2.2 pounds/day during winter feeding trials. WW-Spar bluestem hay, harvested after producing a summer seed crop, produced gains of 1.44 pounds/head/day in the same study.