Wheat offers a chance to harvest food, fiber and feed crops

Growing wheat can provide an attractive return on investment for grain, but it may also offer additional income by selling straw or harvesting forage where red clover has been inter-seeded.

Wheat is a crop that fits a lot of farm situations and field environments. The crop may also present growers the chance to sell straw and may even lead to a double-crop of red clover hay or haylage.

Wheat straw represents additional net income for the wheat enterprise. When contemplating straw value, growers should consider that straw contains at least 20 pounds of potash (K20) per ton, and a few pounds of nitrogen and phosphorous. If potash is valued at $0.50 per pound ($600/ton for 0-0-60), the loss of potash alone would be worth $10 dollars per ton of straw. A reasonable case, for example, where straw yields 1.5 tons per acre, there could be $15 worth of potash plus a few dollars of value for loss of nitrogen and phosphate to total $20 per acre. Even with this cost plus expenses for harvesting, hauling and storing, the crop would still be profitable, particularly if the retail value of straw remains above $100 per ton.

Michigan State University Extension recommends red clover be frost-seeded into wheat at a rate of 10 pounds per acre to serve as a cover crop. However, if there is a good catch of red clover, the crop might be dubbed a double-crop and harvested as hay or haylage in late August. Its feed value can be comparable to alfalfa, but it is more difficult to properly cure and, therefore, harvesting for haylage is often the best course. However, if the clover is to be baled, a conditioner should be used and the cut foliage spread in a wide swath for three or more days. Because leaf shatter is common, it should be raked before fully dry.

A single late-summer harvest of red clover is not likely to reduce its value as a cover crop, as clipping usually stimulates root and shoot growth to provide more vegetation and potentially more nitrogen fixation. Where emergency feed is needed, the red clover could also be harvested again the following spring before an annual crop is planted.

Particularly in 2013, extending the value of the wheat rotation to include a straw and forage harvest is a worthwhile consideration as prices for both commodities are likely to remain strong.

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