Triticale, the first ever man-made crop species, is slowly growing in popularity among farmers in Ontario. Although still considered a “minor crop” in Canada, more and more acres of it are being grown each year, especially for forage.
The development of triticale (pronounced trit-i-kay-lee) as a North American cereal crop began in 1954 at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. This sterile hybrid of wheat and rye must be chemically treated with colchicine to restore its fertility. It can be used as either livestock feed or human food.
Jan Van Roekel, a dairy farmer in Ingersoll, Ont., grows triticale to feed to his Holstein cattle. Last year was his first year growing the crop and he had 50 acres of it.
“I’ve heard about it a couple of times and I had tossed the idea around,” Van Roekel said. “Last fall I did it and I know I’ve had quite a few people ask me about it.”
Van Roekel says he’s been seeing lots of information about triticale circling online, especially from the U.S. where the crop is more popular due to a longer growing window for double cropping. Many dairy nutritionists have recently been suggesting triticale and so Van Roekel gave it a try, harvesting the crop as silage in the spring.
Patrick Lynch, an independent crop advisor, says, “We are just now realizing that this is a crop that has other benefits besides grain, specifically its merit as forage. As a forage crop, it’s got phenomenal potential. Research being done in the U.S. shows it’s especially very good forage for dairy cows.”
Another triticale benefit is that it keeps the ground covered for soil health. The crop builds up organic matter in the ground and prevents erosion, all while feeding your cattle and making some money.
“I was looking for that extra yield and quality,” explained Van Roekel. “I’m doing the double cropping of cereal rye and was told that triticale will yield a little bit higher and will get a little higher quality. It was definitely a good yield, but so was the cereal rye. Quality-wise it’s a little higher in energy but a little lower in protein.”
Van Roekel planted his triticale on September 23rd and harvested it on June 1st. He said this year’s weather was ideal for the crop. The fall was dry and allowed for an early planting date, the growth was good, the winter was mild, and spring came early. “It’s more luck than anything,” he said.
Things like the right date for planting or the right amount of nitrogen needed are still up in the air.
“I think the key thing is to get it in right and spend the money on fertilizing it, on fertility. It’s a grass so if you don’t feed it, it’s probably not going to do what you want it to do,” Van Roekel said. “We got on there with our first shot of nitrogen at the end of March, and then we did a second application of nitrogen with some P and K and Boron and Zinc as a liquid form. The only thing I can say if anybody wants to try it is do not cheap out on fertility.”
Although triticale is more costly than regular cereal rye, it’s not overly expensive, says Van Roekel. Thanks to the greater yield, he says his tonnage per acre production went up and that it was worth the money for feed. The seed is also not hard to acquire.
“I do know a lot of people who are looking at it and trying it,” Lynch said. “Farmers are always looking to do something better and this is an opportunity. I’m sure that more of them will try it; I do expect it to grow.”