ISU Research Suggests New Crop Option for Iowa Producers

August 24th, 2005

Iowa crop producers are getting ready to harvest this year's corn and soybeans. But an Iowa State University agronomist is suggesting they consider some fall planting, as well.

"Triticale provides valuable soil conservation and nitrogen capture benefits in fall and spring," said Lance Gibson, associate professor of agronomy. "It captures from 50 to 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre that might otherwise be lost to the environment. It also provides protection from soil erosion during April, May and June - a period when corn and soybean fields are the most vulnerable to erosion."

Gibson coordinated four years of research on triticale, (pronounced trit-ah-kay-lee), by a multi-disciplinary team. The research included variety testing and development; planting and nitrogen fertility management; rotation options with corn, soybean and forage legumes; swine feeding trials; and economic analysis. The research was funded by the ISU Agronomy Endowment and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

Triticale is a cross between wheat and rye. It has greater yield potential than wheat, but does not contain the traits necessary for bread production. In Iowa, it is suitable as a feed crop, both as forage and grain.

Gibson said triticale production costs are low, requiring 2.5 times less energy per bushel to produce than corn. Another positive is that it offers a new rotational crop, while providing feed in the form of forage or grain.

Variety selection and purchase of certified seed are important for getting suitable results with triticale, Gibson said. "Winter triticales produce greater yields and have less disease problems than spring triticales. Out of more than 50 varieties tested by ISU researchers, 11 winter varieties and one spring variety have been identified as suitable for grain production in Iowa," he said.

A new triticale variety developed jointly by researchers at the University of Nebraska and Iowa State was released in 2004. "This is the first triticale variety developed specifically for Iowa," he said. "It produces excellent forage yields and has 20 percent greater grain production than other varieties tested in Iowa."

Gibson said seed for this new variety, known as NE426GT, is commercially available for planting this fall. The Iowa State researchers working with triticale the past four years determined planting before Sept. 25 in northern Iowa and Oct. 5 in southern Iowa results in the best dry matter production and highest grain yield.

Triticale produces higher quality forage than rye and greater forage yields than wheat. Because it contains "awns," which are thin projections from the head similar to bearded barley and wheat, triticale should be harvested for forage before it heads out. Gibson said harvesting triticale as forage in southern Iowa in late May can yield up to 3 tons per acre of dry matter at 15 percent protein. "Harvesting in late May would allow a producer to then plant a soybean crop with nearly full yield potential," he said. If winter triticale is planted for grain, harvest would occur in mid-July.

Swine-feeding trials showed disease-free triticale grain has a feed value similar to corn. "Swine rations based on triticale required less soybean meal and dicalcium phosphate than corn-based rations, which reduced feeding costs," Gibson said. "However, pigs on triticale took a few more days to reach market maturity than if they were corn-fed."

Triticale feeding recommendations are contained in an extension publication - "Feeding Small Grains to Swine" recently released by ISU Extension. It's available at This publication also lists recommended varieties. Grain triticale feeding trials with beef steers will begin in the animal science department this fall.

Gibson said researchers found triticale is best suited to the lower humidity conditions of western Iowa. "While yield levels have been similar in western and eastern Iowa, western Iowa has less probability of Fusarium head blight infection," he said.

Nitrogen management as it relates to triticale was studied for two years at the Armstrong Research and Demonstration Farm in southwest Iowa and also near Ames. Gibson said optimum grain yields after corn or soybean required no added nitrogen fertilizer at the southwest Iowa location. But the central Iowa results suggested 30 pounds of nitrogen be added in early spring for triticale grown after corn or soybean to produce the best yield.

While Gibson believes Iowa producers should consider triticale as a new option in their crop rotation, he admits there are some negatives to consider.

"Like barley and wheat, triticale is susceptible to infection by Fusarium head blight, which may cause swine to refuse to eat the grain," Gibson said. "We had widespread problems with Fusarium in 2004 when conditions were warm and wet during flowering and early grain development." Fusarium-infected grain must be tested for mycotoxins and fed to ruminant animals or blended with Fusarium-free grain when fed to swine.

Researchers also experienced variable yields, with less than 50 bushels per acre in the wet conditions of 2004 to more than 100 bushels per acre in the cool, dry conditions of 2003.

Gibson said there is one more thing for Iowa producers to keep in mind. "Triticale is recognized as a forage crop in the current farm program, but not as a grain crop. So there are no loan deficiency payments for triticale grain," he said.


Lance Gibson, Agronomy, (515) 294-2143,
Susan Thompson, Communications Service, (515) 294-0705,