Weather conditions in northern New York impact crop production and how much forage inventory farmers can stock ahead to feed their livestock each year. To help dairy farmers boost feed supplies to cover potential emergency needs, the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program funded research evaluating the use of double cropping.

Double cropping involves growing two crops on the same acreage.

“With our short growing season and increasing erratic weather, many growers are in need of forage supply beyond what their acreage can provide with traditional single-planted crops,” said Eric Bever, crop consultant in Champlain Valley Agronomics in Peru, New York. “Double cropping allows farmers to increase forage produciton without adding acreage.’

Research conducted in 58 field trials on farms in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties evaluated the use of the winter small grains triticale and cereal rye on land also used to grow corn for silage. The goal is to produce a second forage crop without negatively impacting corn yield.

The report entitled Winter Forage Small Grains to Boost Feed Supply: Not Just a Cover Crop Anymore includes both production data and an economic assessment of cost vs. the expected forage value of a successful double crop. The data includes triticale and cereal rye yield and crop responsiveness to nitrogen fertilizer addition at green-up in March and April.

While half of the participating farms in NNY did not need to apply additional nitrogen fertilizer to reach crop yield potentials, others needed to apply 75 to 100 lbs. of nitrogen per acre to reach optimum yield for the additional winter forage crop.

“It was important to consider what yield levels are needed to ensure that adoption of double cropping winter cereal grains is a profitable change for farmers to make,” said lead researcher Dr. Quirine M. Ketterings, director of the Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

“Low forage inventories helped prompt the use of cereal rye as a risk management strategy by several farmers in northern New York in recent years,” said Dr. Kitty O’Neil, NNY regional field crops and soils specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension.

In St. Lawrence County, Brandy View Farm Manager Greg Hargrave grew 70 acres of triticale as part of the early field trials in the NNY region. He noted, ‘Getting two crops off the same acreage makes sense for efficiency. This field research showed us that you must prepare and plan for a double crop and you need to be ready to move with your equipment in a timely manner if you are going to be successful with both crops.’

“The field research funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program and conducted with the expertise provided by Cornell University is invaluable for providing data that crop consultants and growers can use to identify the best applications for economic return,” Bever added.

Ketterings notes that double cropping decisions must be made on an individual farm and field basis, taking into account manure histories, soil fertility levels and expected spring harvesting date for the double crop and the planting date for the corn crop.

The results of all trials statewide are being evaluated to develop nitrogen fertilizer guidelines for double-cropped winter grains. More information is expected in the spring of 2016.