U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Document Type


Date of this Version



Field Crops Research 124 (2011) 400–407; doi:10.1016/j.fcr.2011.07.007


Forages could be used to diversify reduced and no-till dryland cropping systems from the traditional wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)-fallow system in the semiarid central Great Plains. Forages present an attractive alternative to grain and seed crops because of greater water use efficiency and less susceptibility to potentially devastating yield reductions due to severe water stress during critical growth stages. However, farmers need a simple tool to evaluate forage productivity under widely varying precipitation conditions. The objectives of this study were to (1) quantify the relationship between crop water use and dry matter (DM) yield for soybean (Glycine max L. Merrill), (2) evaluate changes in forage quality that occur as harvest date is delayed, and (3) determine the range and distribution of expected DM yields in the central Great Plains based on historical precipitation records. Forage soybean was grown under a line-source gradient irrigation system to impose a range of water availability conditions at Akron, CO. Dry matter production was linearly correlated with water use resulting in a production function slope of 21.2 kg ha−1mm−1. The slope was much lower than previously reported for forage production functions for triticale (X Triticosecale Wittmack) and millet (Setaria italic L. Beauv.), and only slightly lower than slopes previously reported for corn (Zea mays L.) and pea (Pisum sativa L.) forage. Forage quality was relatively stable during the last four weeks of growth, with small declines in crude protein (CP) concentration. Values of CP concentration and relative feed value indicated that forage soybean was of sufficient quality to be used for dairy feed. A standard seed variety of maturity group VII was found to be similar (in both productivity and quality) to a variety designated as a forage type. The probability of obtaining a break-even yield of at least 4256 kg ha−1 was 90% as determined from long-term precipitation records used with the production function. The average estimated DM yield was 5890 kg ha−1 and ranged from 2437 to 9432 kg ha−1. Regional estimates of mean forage soybean DM yield ranged from 4770 kg ha−1 at Fort Morgan, CO to 6911 kg ha−1 at Colby, KS. Forage soybean should be considered a viable alternative crop for dryland cropping systems in the central Great Plains.