Iowa farmers think triticale could be a viable alternative to oats

By Laura Sayre

December 8, 2004: Triticale, the man-made hybrid of wheat (genus Triticum) and rye (genus Secale), was first developed by a Scottish botanist in the late 19th century and then improved by German and Canadian breeders in the 1940s and '50s. The goal was to create a small grain as hardy as rye but with the milling and baking qualities of wheat.

Although so far triticale has remained a minor crop with limited commercial markets, it periodically receives renewed interest as a potential alternative crop for mixed grain and livestock producers.

In 2003 and 2004, Iowa State University agronomy professor Lance Gibson worked with two farms in northwest Iowa—the Dordt College Ag Stewardship Center in Sioux Center, and Paul and Karen Mugge in Sutherland—to compare triticale to oats. Results from the trials are summarized by Rick Exner in the Fall 2004 newsletter of Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Triticale can be used for either a feed or forage crop, and both spring-planted and fall-planted varieties are available, giving it great flexibility within organic crop rotations. It also works well as a nurse crop for establishing forages. Triticale is attractive as a livestock feed because its nutritional profile is better than that of most other small grains. It contains more lysine than corn and more crude protein than either corn or oats. It also has less fiber than oats, Exner writes, which makes it a better feed for growing and finishing animals.

The Iowa farmers trialed one spring triticale variety, Trimark 37812, and one winter variety, NE426GT. The spring triticale yields over two years on the two farms ranged from 53.2 bu/ac to 91.3 bu/ac. Oat yields under the same conditions ranged from 103.4 bu/ac to 153.8 bu/ac. Because triticale is a heavier grain, however—it's usually given a 56-lb test weight versus a 32-lb test weight for oats—harvested weights on the two grains were more comparable (from 2,980-5,112 lbs/ac for triticale versus 3,308-4,922 lbs/ac for oats).

Organic farmer Paul Mugge, who has been growing triticale for the past three or four years, told New Farm he is particularly excited about the prospects for winter triticale. In 2003/2004 his trial of the variety NE426GT—recently developed by breeders at the University of Nebraska—yielded 90 bu/ac, or 5,040 lbs/ac.

Other varieties that showed good performance in test plots include: (winter varieties) Alzo, Décor, DANKO Presto, Kitaro, Lamberto, NE95T426, Presto, Roughrider, Trical Brand 336 and 815, Sorento, and Vero; (spring varieties) AC Alta, AC William, Trical Brand 37812 and 46520, and Wapiti.

Citation: Rick Exner, "Triticale: A Step toward diversity," The Practical Farmer 19,3 (Fall 2004):18-20.