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Forage productivity of wheat varieties studied

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on Jan. 25, 2020

Growing winter wheat for dual purpose is a production practice growers have been using for years and has become quite common in many areas across the U.S. Because of this, Kansas State University’s (KSU) Department of Agronomy studied forage production of dual-purpose winter wheat varieties and generated new information on the topic in December. 

            KSU Research and Extension Wheat Production Specialist Romulo Lollato discussed the study and results during the Jan. 16 episode of KSU’s Agriculture Today podcast. 

Advantages of dual-purpose winter wheat

            Growing winter wheat for grazing in the fall and winter and harvesting grain later in the year has appealed to many producers for several reasons.

            “The main advantage of growing winter wheat for dual purpose is providing forage when there is a gap in the production of other forages,” Lollato explains. “The productive cycle of most forages occurs through the spring and summer, while winter wheat can be grown during a time when nothing else can.” 

            Lollato notes the second advantage is winter wheat produces very high-quality forage with anywhere from 20 to 30 percent crude protein and 40 to 45 percent nutrient fiber. 

            “It is a very highly-digestible forage which tells us the conversion from forage to beef is very high,” he notes.

            Lollato explains, “This conversion is typically about 10 to one, so every 10 pounds of dry matter wheat forage is converted to one pound of beef.” 

Factors affecting fall forage production potential

            Lollato notes a common misconception among growers is that variety of wheat is the number one factor affecting fall forage production potential. He explains plant variety is actually number three on the list of factors affecting forage production potential. In fact, coming in at number one is weather.

            “Fall forage production potential is determined first by the weather,” he says. “The warmer and wetter it is, the greater the forage production potential.” 

            He continues, “The second factor is management strategy, including planting date, effective emergence date and fertility. Crops planted earlier and in higher fertility conditions are going to produce much more forage.”

            In fact, Lollato notes a two-week delay in planting can reduce the production potential up to about 1,000 pounds. 

            The third factor affecting fall forage production potential is plant variety. 

            “Some varieties are bred for dual-production systems so they typically produce more forage and some don’t have dwarfing genes so they also produce more forage,” he explains. “There are certainly differences among the varieties but they are the last thing to have an affect on production potential.” 

Lollato then notes when it comes to selecting a variety of wheat for a dual-purpose system, there are three important considerations growers should keep in mind. These are forage production capacity, how late in the spring the variety can be grazed, also known as first whole stem, and how well it responds to stress and the removal or foliage.

KSU study

            Despite the fact weather and management have larger affects on production potential, Lollato and his colleagues at KSU have been evaluating the forage production potential of wheat varieties over the past five years.

            “In our tria,l we used fertilizer and put out about 30 units of nitrogen for every 1,000 pounds dry matter,” Lollato says. “We also simulated grazing because we wantrd to know how variety yield compares when grazed or not.”

            Lollato explains in their most recent trial, after planting on Sept. 20 in Hutchinson, Kan., they ran into several problems. 

            “For a good two weeks after planting, we didn’t have any rain so some plants emerged with whatever moisture they could find. The majority of the plants in the trial, however, emerged after the rain on Oct. 3,” he states. “After that one rain, we didn’t get anymore precipitation for the rest of the year. The lack of uniformity and delay in emergence as well as the dry fall really decreased the forage production potential.”

            “Therefore, when looking at the data, producers need to keep in mind our numbers reflect the weather conditions we had this year so they might be low with some variability,” Lollato adds.  

Study results

            In general, Lollato notes the results of their study showed fall forage production potential ranged from 500 pounds of dry matter per acre to 1,800 pounds of dry matter per acre.

            “The varieties that did really well and were statistically similar in the highest forage group were Gallagher, WB303, RockStar, WB4269, Paradise, Smith’s Gold and WB4792,” Lollato explains. 

            He further explains those interested in viewing the full list of wheat variety results can visit KSU’s agronomy e-update at

            “We will also be releasing our first hollow stem data which signals when producers should remove their cattle from wheat pastures on that same platform very soon,” he says. 

            Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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