Stanislaus County farmers grew nearly 55,000 acres of oats and winter forage last season. This was the third largest acreage of these crops in the state, which has a total of over 425,000 acres. Oats are grown in practically every county in the state, and even though this area grows a lot of them, our area is somewhat unique in how they are grown compared to other areas.
Although most oats and other winter forages grown here and in other dairy areas are fed to dairy cows, much of the total oat crop goes to feed horses. There are estimated to be about 1 million horses in California which is nearly the same as the state's 1,147,163 milking age dairy cows. The trend for horse owners to feed more alfalfa has put pressure on the supplies of that crop as well.
First, here and in Merced County, the favorite oat variety is Kanota because of its fine stems and adaptation to sandy soils. In other parts of the San Joaquin Valley, growers prefer Montezuma because it is early maturing in the vicinity of Tulare and Kern Counties and because it does well on the heavier soils in San Joaquin County. Montezuma is also grown in the Montezuma hills along Highway 12, east of Rio Vista and in the Dunnigan hills in eastern Yolo County. Cal Reds are the favorite oat in the Petaluma dairy district (growers here plant oats or forage mix because it is too cool to grow alfalfa) and in the marshy area along the north bay east of Vallejo. Cayuse and Park are the favorite oat varieties in the intermountain area of northeastern California.
Most oats everywhere else but in Stanislaus County are cut in the soft dough stage for both hay and silage. Growers in other areas are only just beginning to find that cutting earlier pays off in many situations because of the improved quality. Swathing winter forage and wilting to 70% is unheard of in most other parts of the state because when the silage is cut at a later stage, it is drier and doesn't need wilting.
Dirkwin wheat has become fairly popular here because of its good tonnage, palatability, and quality. Dirkwin is starting to be planted in other parts of the state also, but there are other areas that have used wheat for forage for a long time. In Shasta, Lassen, Siskiyou and Modoc Counties in the northeastern part of the state, growers will plant Yamhill wheat, a beardless, late maturing winter-type forage wheat. Often they will mix it with Austrian winter peas for a very high quality hay or silage. Ramona wheat, a very old beardless bread variety, is grown dryland on the hills east of Tulare County and used for hay.
Bearded wheats are used for forage also. In Kings and some of Tulare and Fresno Counties, most dairymen plant Yecora Rojo, a popular grain wheat, and cut it in the soft dough stage for silage. Some nutritionists there claim that the quality is comparable to that of corn silage.
In San Luis Obispo County, there are over 25,000 acres of grain hay. Over half of this is oats, grown mainly for the horse market. The rest of the hay is barley and a little wheat. This was planted for grain, but growers there expect that at least some portion of the crop will be frozen out and needs to be cut for hay, so they plant barley varieties with smooth or semi-smooth awns (beards). Since all the grain operations are also livestock operations, the grain hay is usually fed on the ranch.
Grass hay is becoming popular in the intermountain region of northeastern California. Good quality Timothy hay will bring as much as alfalfa in the racehorse market. Timothy and other perennial grasses do not do well here because they require cool summers. However, Imperial Valley growers, seeking to capitalize on the pacific rim export market, are experimenting with several perennial grasses which give good tonnage and exceptional quality. Some of these may be able to be grown locally. Watch for information on bromegrass, Klein grass and Matua grass.
November 5, 1999