With the temperatures above 100 and very dry conditions it is hard to be thinking about planting small grains. However, now is the time to be getting ready to plant if small grains are in your future for potential winter and spring grazing or hay and silage production. Small grains serve as a valuable forage source for many producers in Comanche and Central Texas.
Small grains are not inexpensive to plant, your first consideration needs to be cost and value of planting acreage into small grains. According to Texas A&M Agriculture Economist the cost per acre to grow small grains for grazing in 2019 is $187.29, this includes all variable and fixed cost. I realize many of you can get your seed in the ground a little cheaper than that, but if you are honest with yourself and put a figure on all cost you will find you are going to be close to this number. But if you own the equipment and have the location to plant you certainly need to utilize these assets. Keep in mind an additional spray for armyworms or the need to replant a portion of your field will add on to the $187.29 figure.
We are currently listed as abnormally dry and the long-range weather forecast does not look as favorable as it did a month or so ago. We do still have a weak El Nino that has us with an above average moisture chance for at least part of the winter and then an equal chance of wet or dry for the rest of the winter and into the spring months. So unlike last year we cannot be as confident of good rainfall throughout the growing season as we were last year at this time. On the other side of the coin the predictions for moisture this winter are not dire and most years we can expect enough rainfall to keep a small grain crop growing in the winter and spring.
Planting early is always best if you hope to get early grazing, mid-September is usually optimal for grazing and higher forage total for the whole season. However, on dryland, I would let the weather dictate my planting decisions as much as possible this year. If it looks like we have some good moisture coming our way, then get after it. We have had epic outbreaks of fall armyworms the last two years, anytime you plant early you are going to have the threat of armyworm losses. Scouting is a high priority for early planted grain, armyworms can destroy your crop in a matter of days. For those that are planting for hay or silage production, I would recommend waiting and planting closer to November 1, this will help get you past the armyworm threat.
We have excellent data for small grain forage production in the county with up to 4 years of data on many varieties and species. Here is the top 5 with 4 years of data: TAM 114 HRWW with 9404 lb. average, Maton II rye with 8791lb. average, P-919 winter barley with 8580 average, SY Razor HRWW with 8185 lb. average and Prine ryegrass with a 7989 lb. average. There are several with 2 and 3 years of data that are promising higher yield potential than these. For a complete list call or come by the office.
To me there is not much more pleasing than seeing fat calves grazing winter pasture, but you need to sit down with a pencil and compare cost of planting versus cost of feed and hay, then weigh the potential risk.