California is the number one dairy state in America, and we are proud of it! Sorry Cheeseheads, the Sunshine State still has you beat. There are a lot of reasons that California ranks so highly, but possibly the biggest reason is our year round growing season. Winter in the Central Valley is dark, cold, and wet (well, hopefully wet)… Yet Midwesterners would laugh at me as I sit here shivering in my Carhart on this chilly 55 degree October morning!
The fact of the matter is that California’s Central Valley has a very mild winter that allows forage crops to grow year round. My fields have a crop actively growing 10 1/2 months out of the year. This means I can produce about twice as much forage per acre per year compared to regions who have a short growing season due to a harsh winter.
I refer to my winter crop as “winter forage.” I know, it’s a really specific name for it… Winter forage is a term that is used to discribe whatever a dairyman plants in the Fall to harvest in the Spring. It could be wheat, oats, rye, barley, triticale, or a blend of all of the above. Winter forage is harvested for silage or made into hay.
I plant a blend of oats, wheat, and rye and harvest it for silage. The mix I plant works for me because it gives me a decent harvest window because of the varying maturities of the varying small grain varieties. This is important because I farm heavy clay soil that is very unforgiving if it’s wet. If we get late spring rains I cannot get into the fields to chop, so I have to have a decent window to allow for weather. It can be chopped as early as March or as late as May and make a successful crop anywhere in between.
Winter forage can produce anywhere from 10-20 tons of silage per acre depending on the variety and the rainfall/irrigation. Lodging can be a big issue, but some of the newer varieties and mixes are getting better about standing up to the rain and winds. I plant my winter forage on a thirty inch furrow to allow for furrow irrigation if it is a dry year. I will be planting it in the next two or three weeks if everything goes according to plan! Stay tuned on Facebook for more about my winter crop.
Thanks for reading, and be sure to drink Real California Milk!!
Jason Mast is a fourth generation farmer born and raised in the Central Valley. He is a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo graduate with a degree in Agriculture Science, and currently works alongside his father and brother to manage their dairy in Denair, CA.