Frederickson winter wheat (copy)

Winter wheat grows at Frederickson Farms in Chester, Mont.

BOZEMAN, Mont. – Two newly-developed winter wheat forage lines will be released in time for fall 2018 planting.

The new lines are known as MTF1432 and MTF1435. Both originated from separate crosses made in 2007 and 2008 between Yellowstone and 98X168E1, a tall, awnless experimental line. The lines are closely related but not identical in parentage.

With considerable interest in small grain forages by producers, developers hope the new lines will have some advantages over Willow Creek, the winter wheat forage of choice for Montana producers for more than a decade.

Willow Creek, a tall, awnletted, and late-maturing cultivar, was developed at Montana State University and released by the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station (MAES) in 2005. The cultivar has been successful in parts of the western U.S. and Montana, where it’s primarily used as a one-cut annual hay crop under irrigated or rain fed conditions.

Livestock producers like autumn planting, and the late maturity of Willow Creek coincides with ideal hay drying conditions.

But Willow Creek has its shortcomings.

Whereas it’s always been a great forage producer in the one-cut, annual hay system, it doesn’t yield much grain for farmers trying to grow their own seed.

In addition, it was selected from a foreign wheat line which did not have good U.S. end-use quality. In other words, it doesn’t make good bread and doesn’t fit well with other varieties destined for export to Asian markets.

The new lines have been developed with Willow Creek’s deficits in mind. Both are better seed producers and both have improved end-use quality to better suit the market.

“They fit for dual production, for grain or forage,” said Phil Bruckner, Montana State University’s winter wheat breeder. “They do best as forage lines, but if they were used in grain production or potentially planted for forage then harvested for grain that would be acceptable.”

While the perennial forages – alfalfa, grass – are the backbone of Montana’s forage production system, the grain forages are special purpose crops, there to supplement the perennial system. In fact, since 2000, forage production levels of cereal hays grown under rain fed conditions in Montana were comparable to those of alfalfa, according to the Journal of Plant Registrations.

For example, for producers renovating hay land, a grain crop can provide some short-term, high-volume forage until the hay comes back into production. In fact, winter cereals grown under continuous cropping often have higher forage production than alfalfa and perennial grasses at low-precipitation rain fed sites. During droughty conditions at Moccasin in 2002, forage yields of Willow Creek wheat and TRICAL 102 Brand triticale were numerically higher than the trial means of forage barley and 2-year stands of alfalfa, according to the same journal.

Or, they can work well in the cash market for forages, especially in years like this where it’s dry and forages are hard to come by.

“If you’re needing animal food and pasture these winter annual and spring annuals establish immediately and get forage production in the next growing season,” Bruckner said.

All told, grain forages – winter and spring – allow more suppleness for producers, always at the mercy of weather and markets.

“In our system, it’s always good to have more flexibility,” Bruckner said. “Usually when someone plants a forage line they make that planting decision at this time of year, when they harvest next June, and that’s quite a bit of time when their circumstances can change: ‘I don’t need it for my cattle herd, but now I have this crop in the field.’ I think it’s a positive thing.”