Triticale – A Step Towards Diversity

Published Feb 1, 2005

We often wish there were more alternatives to corn and soybeans. But often when we describe what we need, it sounds much like… corn and soybeans. A grain that can be sold at the local elevator, high yielding, etc. But any new crop that comes along will not enjoy the infrastructure or markets that have evolved with corn and beans. And a new crop won’t have years of development behind it, as do the established crops. So how can a potential alternative crop “get its foot in the door” of Midwest agriculture?

Producers might be willing to try a new crop if it filled a need on the farm and never had to leave the farm. Such a crop might be consumed by livestock, for example. One of the latest entries in the category is a cross of durum wheat and winter rye called “triticale.” (The common Iowa pronunciation seems to be “TRIT-ih-cale-ey,” but some regions make a three-syllable word out of it.) In the past few years, ISU agronomy professor Lance Gibson has evaluated this crop on two northwest Iowa PFI farms, that of Paul and Karen Mugge (Sutherland) and the Dordt College Agricultural Stewardship Center (Sioux Center). Now this research is part of the ISU Extension bulletin PM-1994, Feeding Small Grains to Swine.

As the crop’s heritage suggests, this is a small grain. Like other small grains, triticale is good at scavenging nutrients left by previous crops, good at breaking up weed cycles, and helpful in evening out the cropping labor demands. Unlike oats, barley, and wheat, there isn’t an established market for the grain. However, triticale is superior to most of the other small grains as a livestock feed. Its energy content is closer to corn than to oats. Like oats, it has a higher lysine content than corn, but its crude protein content, 12.5%, is higher than either corn or oats. Perhaps most importantly, the fiber content of triticale is less than half that of oats. The fiber in oats makes it a useful feed for young livestock, but it also makes it less efficient for use in growing/finishing animals. Finally, the phosphorus in triticale is utilized three times more efficiently than that in corn, reducing the potential for P buildup on the farm.