The Chicago Board of Trade (CBoT) is a commodity exchange established in 1848. CBoT originally traded only agricultural commodities such as wheat, corn and soybeans. Now it offers options and futures contracts on a wide range of commodities, including gold, silver, U.S. Treasury bonds and energy.

Corn Futures, Soy Futures, Milk Futures – No Hay Futures?In 2007, CBoT merged with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Chicago was chosen as the exchange location because of its railroad infrastructure, its proximity to the American agricultural heartlands and the city’s position as a key transit point for livestock. Quoting an organization spokesperson, “The CBoT focuses more on agricultural commodities and interest rate products. A commodity futures contract is an agreement to buy or sell a particular commodity at a future date. The price and the amount of the commodity are fixed at the time of the agreement. Most contracts contemplate that the agreement will be fulfilled by actual delivery of the commodity.”

Nowhere in any CBoT research do I find mention of “hay” as tradable commodity – nothing comparable to standard U.S. #2 corn.

If hay has its own “future,” it’s something like “don’t run out of it before grass time.” That goal in mind, here are some management pointers. As we approach the start of August – especially across the northern tier of states and southern Canada – temperatures start to drop at night and slow the production of warm season crops. This grouping includes soybean, corn, sorghum, sudangrass, their hybrids and millets. With these crops fading, cool season crops can thrive under fewer growing degree days. Stands of straight cool season grasses – fed nitrogen (N) and sulfur (S) and adequate rainfall – can give good yields in early October.

Cool season crops don’t dry rapidly in late summer and early autumn. Thus, wide-swath same day haylage, with proper inoculant, will make high quality forage. For folks planting in early August, planting oats for forage promises the best potential and is most practical. Planted at 3 bushels/acre of grain-type oats, one can expect to harvest two to four tons dry matter per acre by September’s end.

Classic forage yield experiments conducted at the Cornell Valatie Research Farm showed no response for higher seeding rates. But when planting is delayed, yields fall dramatically. Normally cool night temperatures in September conserve sugars, producing forage with high fiber digestibility – an occurrence which better prepares this roughage regrowth to survive winter. With sufficient N and S, and/or manure, oats harvested as forage should easily reach 18% protein.

Fall oats are not a foolproof crop. Planting at July’s end or early August, especially in more southern regions, brings the risk of aphids introducing barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV), which can kill oat plants. Cool nights with heavy dew usually knock down aphids, reducing loss potential. Elson Shields, Ph.D., Cornell, reported, “Since BYDV is circulative, a neonic (neonicotinoid) will kill many aphids before they can transmit the virus. (Thus) most of your problems will be in the disease area like rust.”

Gary Bergstrom, Ph.D., Cornell, reported that rust populations in New York have developed the ability to overcome certain oat resistance genes, and can now infect older, previously resistant varieties. There have been field reports of susceptible oat varieties covered in rust spores, resembling orange highway cones.

Presently on the market are two rust-resistant oat varieties, Steuben and Hayden. Developed at Cornell by Dr. Mark Sorrells, these varieties (at least for now) have solved the rust issue. For folks using non-rust-resistant oat varieties, there remains the option of applying properly timed fungicide to control rust. Planting late summer oats without fungicide is not advised. There have been cases where untreated oats were planted at July’s end, and within a month, they succumbed to rust. Note: None of the three Ph.D.s mentioned above recommends indiscriminate use of “neonics,” since these pesticides are toxic to honeybees.

Let’s mentally leave late summer-planted oats and discuss winter forages/cover crops, beginning with triticale, a hybrid of wheat (Triticum) and rye (Secale). Triticale was first developed over a century ago by Scottish and German plant breeders. For over 50 years, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL) has managed a winter triticale breeding program to complement its winter wheat and winter barley efforts.

Winter triticale’s main reason for existence was to provide locally adapted feed grains in western Nebraska, where, historically, not enough grain was produced to feed local livestock. Of the autumn-planted winter crops, triticale is less hardy than wheat. And rye is the hardiest winter cereal. But over time, it was discovered that winter triticale functions well as a forage or hay crop, since it produces more biomass than winter wheat or winter barley.

Generally, in the Northeast, winter forages hit their optimum level of maturity (barely forming seed heads) between May 10 and 20. This is usually 10 days before perennial forages, on neighboring fields, yield the most digestible dry matter per acre – a time gain which should be very precious for many growers next spring. Late summer-planted winter forages start waking up, as the last snow finishes melting – while soil temperatures are still in the low 40s. So the triticale can be harvested, usually at 24 – 30 inches in height, as soil temperature commonly hits the 50º milestone – the same point at which corn can be safely planted.

In the much more immediate future, let’s examine winter forages again – be they rye, triticale, wheat, barley or speltz. These cold-footed crops serve well as a disposal site for manure during late fall and winter. Most small grain experts believe that triticale can metabolize up to 70 lbs. N during the November – March period. Semi-solid manure averages about 1% actual N. So an acre of triticale can be expected to process and store nutrients from about 7,000 lbs. of manure over that period. With winter rye (due to its greater lodging likelihood), it’s better to limit manure application to 5,000 lbs./acre.