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0408 PD: Triticale’s natural pollution-fighting ability could help dairy producers

Marlene Fritz Published on 27 February 2008

Triticale is a cross between wheat and rye, combining the quality and productivity of the former with the vigor and hardiness of the latter. It’s also a very green means of removing potentially water-polluting phosphorus right from the soil.

Research by University of Idaho Extension agronomist Brad Brown shows that the combination of fall-planted triticale after summer-grown silage corn can take out more than half-again as much phosphorus as silage corn alone. Brown found that triticale withdrew an average 19 pounds of phosphorus per acre, compared with 37 pounds for silage corn. He also learned that increasing triticale seeding rates by 50 percent maximizes forage yield and, along with it, phosphorus removal.

“Double-cropping triticale and corn is a very common practice for those with manure to dispose of,” said Brown, of the Parma, Idaho, Research and Extension Center.

“The more phosphorus they can remove, the more manure they can apply and the less manure they have to find somebody else to take. I won’t say that everybody does it, but the more limited you are with your land resources, the more difficult it is to dispose of manure and the more likely you are to plant triticale.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, in cooperation with the dairy industry, has set a threshold of 40 parts per million on soil phosphorus levels wherever runoff is a concern. If their fields exceed that threshold, producers are limited in their applications of phosphorus-rich manure by how much phosphorus their harvested crops can remove.

In surface waters, excessive phosphorus can kill fish; it spurs the growth of algae and other nuisance plants that compete with fish for oxygen as these plants break down. Concerns about phosphorus in the environment led Brown to begin studying the beneficial role of triticale beginning in 1998. Recently, he determined that applying nitrogen before planting boosts triticale’s forage production and its phosphorus pollution-reducing impacts – more than adding nitrogen in midwinter or spring.

When they surveyed triticale in southern Idaho fields, Brown and others found that its phosphorus concentration can differ threefold from one field to the next. “Some people are removing more phosphorus with triticale than others. If they’re not analyzing their forage, they should be.”

Not only does triticale help dairy producers manage pollution threats, but it’s a good cattle feed, too. According to University of Idaho’s Glenn Shewmaker, its digestibility and desirable calcium-to-phosphorus ratio make it a “good component of a ration.”

And triticale’s production costs are encouragingly minimal: just seed, drilling, harvesting and possibly a hit of nitrogen.

“Triticale doesn’t use much water when it’s harvested at the ‘boot’ stage, prior to heading,” Brown said.  PD

Submitted by the University of Idaho

Marlene Fritz for Progressive Dairyman

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