Garfield County Cooperative Extension

Maximizing Wheat Forage

Josh Bushong NW Area Agronomy Specialist

Going into this fall many wheat producers are leaning more towards growing wheat for forage rather than grain only. Weather for dual purpose or graze-out, there are certain management practices that can be performed to increase forage potential.

When growing wheat for forage one of the easiest ways to get more pounds is to plant early. Research conducted from OSU has shown that more forage is produced the earlier we plant. Some trials show that a sowing wheat the first week of September yielded about twice as much fall forage as a mid-late September planting date. When sowing wheat this early we can sacrifice some grain potential and some issues can occur.

When planting this early the potential for pests can increase. These pests include many viruses, root rots, foliar diseases, hessian flies, wheat curl mites, wireworms, army cutworms, and weeds. Some aid can be made through the use of seed treatments that include an insecticide and/or a fungicide. These seed treatments can reduce root/foot rots, bunt, smut, leaf rust, powdery mildew, hessian fly as well as reduce aphids that can transmit barely yellow dwarf virus. When selecting a seed treatment be cautious of grazing restrictions, which can range from 0-45 days.

There are a couple of issues to be cautious of and many of these risks can reduced with variety selection. When selecting a wheat variety be sure to note certain characteristics like acidic soil tolerance, heat germination sensitivity, coleoptile length, forage production potential, pest resistance, recovery after grazing, and first hollow stem date.

In addition to planting early, the next easiest way to increase fall forage would be to increase your seeding rates. Several trials have shown that fall forage will increase up to a seeding rate of 2 bushels (120 lb) per acre. Fall forage can be increased with even higher seeding rates, but the economics start to become a little less favorable. It is also advantageous to sow with narrower rows. A grain drill on 6-inch row spacing will produce more fall forage than a drill on 10-inch spacing.

Next to seed costs, fertility will likely be the next highest input cost. Managing fertility economically can be challenging. Starting with a simple composite soil sample can go a long way in managing this input. Knowing your soil pH and levels of the other nutrients will dictate where you should focus your dollars. Acidic soils can limit forage production as much as anything else. Next would be to supply adequate nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K).  The only solution to fix acidic soils is to apply lime, but variety selection and banding phosphorus fertilizer in-furrow can help offset the loss in forage production. Banding fertilizer with our grain drills is more efficient and economical because it is placed right with the seed. Managing N can directly influence forage production, in which higher N rates will increase forage. Typically we need 60-70 lbs N at planting to reach optimal forage, but 40lbs N is usually an economical rate.


While we try to cut certain costs, we first need to set a budget and determine our objectives. After that, we know how much we can truly afford to put into this crop to reach our objectives. Above all else, we are simply at the mercy of mother nature on how much fall forage we can produce. With recent rains, we should be off to a decent start.  

Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service is implied.

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