BY P.J. GRIEKSPOOR
KANSAS wheat grower and seedsman Vance Ehmke thinks the future of western Kansas wheat country may very well be in growing something other than wheat.
And, he says, that something else just might be triticale, the cross between wheat and rye that in recent years has gained popularity as a graze-out crop for beef cattle and as silage for dairy cows. Ehmke has good reason to have faith in triticale. He’s been growing it for a couple of decades and is the U.S. seed distributor for the world’s largest triticale breeding company in Poland.
In the annual New Mexico State University irrigated small- grain forage trials last winter, ThunderTall, one of Ehmke’s varieties, took first place in total tons of silage produced at 21.7 tons per acre.
“A lot of people think that all triticales are the same,” Ehmke says. “That’s like saying all wheat varieties are the same. There’s a wide variation out there.”
2 big categories
Broadly, he says, there are two big categories of triticale. There are the late-season, tall varieties meant for silage or hay production. Then, there are the medium- season, not-as-tall, better grain- producing varieties that are ideal for grazing. When it comes to helping a grower pick the right variety for his fields, Ehmke says there is an absence of good, hard data.
Vance Ehmke compares a ThunderTall triticale leaf to a leaf from wheat. Triticale, which is a wheat-rye cross, withstands drought better than wheat and is more winter-hardy. Triticale is also resistant to wheat’s major diseases, including leaf and stripe rust and wheat streak mosaic virus.
“NMSU is probably not just the best source of hard data, but the only one,” Ehmke says. The numbers, however, offer some food for thought for western Kansas producers.
“One thing you have to look at is irrigation efficiency. How many tons of dry matter do you get per inch of water used?” he asked. “That will become increasingly important. We are running out of water.”
Thundercale V, another Ehmke variety, produces more tons of dry matter per inch of water than any other variety. Dry matter data collected in 2011 showed Thundercale V yielded 0.353 ton of dry matter per inch of water applied.
It is not just wheat growers who are keeping an eye on triticale. Longtime western Kansas farmer, feedlot operator and dairy operator Steve Irsik says western Kansas farmers are wasting water growing corn when what they need is forages for the dairy and beef cattle and hogs.
“Triticale gives you a lot more pounds of high-quality feed on the same acres with lower cost of inputs and a lot less water,” Ehmke says. “This year Kansas has 140,000 acres of triticale,
TOP PRODUCER: Vance Ehmke displays a large head and leaf of ThunderTall triticale, which placed first in forage tonnage at the New Mexico State University irrigated small-grain forage trials last winter. ThunderTall also topped the trials in milk production when fed to dairy cows.