Interested in a high-quality pasture for late fall and winter grazing? Consider turnips. Turnips planted into wheat or oat stubble, or turnips or cereal rye flown onto corn can provide some great fall and winter grazing.

Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist, says turnips provide good grazing beginning in October, and often last into the new year. Turnips also are cheap to plant, as seed can cost less than $10/acre.

Late July to early August is the time to plant turnips for fall grazing, Anderson says. Seedbed preparation and planting can be done several ways. Some turnip growers work soil like a fully prepared alfalfa seedbed. Others heavily disk their ground, but leave it fairly rough before broadcasting seed. And a few growers spray glyphosate or Gramoxone on wheat or oat stubble to kill weeds and then plant no-till.

Whatever the method chosen, early weed control is essential. Turnips do poorly if weeds get ahead of them, but once started, turnips compete very well. Since no herbicides are labeled for turnips, weeds must be controlled either by tillage or use of contact herbicides like glyphosate or Gramoxone before planting. Then plant quickly to get the turnips off and running, Anderson says.

Plant only 2-4 lbs./acre of turnip seed. Turnip seed is very small, so barely cover it. If you drill your seed, just scratch the surface with your openers. Simply broadcasting seed onto tilled soils works well for many growers, especially on rough seedbeds where rainfall or irrigation washes soil onto the seeds for soil coverage.

With a few timely rains you’ll have excellent green feed for late October, November and December.

Or bump up crop residues – like corn stalks – by flying turnip or cereal rye seed onto standing corn in early August. When successful, turnip or rye plants provide more grazing days and extra protein when corn stalks become poor quality.

The challenge is establishing a good, productive stand in a growing corn field, Anderson says. The challenges include:

• Moisture. Moisture easily can be limiting in dryland corn, but also can be difficult to manage in surface irrigated fields. Even under pivots, providing water for rye or turnips without slowing corn harvest takes planning.

• Density of the corn canopy, particularly in irrigated fields, can prevent adequate light from reaching new seedlings. Chopping corn for silage or combining high-moisture grain early helps.

• Herbicide carryover can also cause problems. Turnips are very sensitive, but rye also is affected.

• Wheel traffic at harvest. Turnips are damaged more than rye, but both lose stand if fields get muddy. “I do like improving corn stalks with rye or turnips. But be aware there are challenges, and try to find ways to overcome them,” Anderson says.
-- Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska