Triticale grows well in the Carolinas and on into Virginia, Kentucky and Maryland. Its biggest holdback isn’t agronomics, its economics.

Unlike other grain crops grown in the Southeast, there is no federal crop insurance option for triticale production. Without it, veteran North Carolina State Small Grain Specialist Randy Weisz says increasing triticale acreage will be difficult.

North Carolina-based grain buyer Murphy Brown rejuvenated some interest in triticale this past year when they upped the ante on pushing for more locally grown grain to feed poultry and swine in the Carolinas and Virginia.

The big question from Murphy Brown was: Can we grow it? The answer is clearly yes from an agronomic point of view.

North Carolina State University Plant Breeder Paul Murphy has developed a number of varieties over the past few years that are well suited to production in North Carolina and surrounding states.

He says, “Triticale acreage in North Carolina is small at present, but we are convinced that this species has potential for the state's small grain producers.”

“We have observed in our breeding nurseries that triticale has high levels of disease and insect resistance and drought tolerance. Its grain has a high quality protein that makes it suitable for hog and poultry feed, and many cultivars produce abundant leafy growth in late winter and early spring with potential for grazing or silage production.”

Excellent energy source

Triticale is an excellent energy source and has a better amino acid profile than corn, wheat, and sorghum for poultry and swine rations. Therefore, triticale has potential as a superior energy source and protein supplement in animal rations.

It has been used on a small scale by livestock producers in the Southeast, and has been particularly popular with swine producers.

In addition to Paul Murphy’s program at North Carolina State, the University of Georgia and the University of Florida have done extensive research and varietal development.

Tests on two joint UGA and UF triticale varieties, Sunland and Florida 201 have shown that high quality triticale can replace corn in swine and poultry rations without significantly affecting performance of hogs, chickens or turkeys.

Arcia is a triticale variety released by Murphy’s breeding program in 2001. In a recent three-year test at Clemson University’s Sampson Research Farm, Arcia produced about 110 bushels per acre, with a test weight of 50 pounds per bushel, placing it among the top performing varieties in the multi-year test.

Triticale has been around for a century or so, says Murphy. It started when plant breeders sought to combine the natural disease, insect and stress resistance of rye with the baking and milling quality of wheat. So, triticale is an artificial species that is a combination of wheat and rye, Murphy explains.

“We started a triticale breeding program back in the 1990s to try and find a variety that was adaptable to North Carolina. Despite having a variety that is well suited to the region, there was little interest among growers to grow it. So, we phased out our breeding program,” Murphy says.

“Like starting up a breeding program, phasing one out takes time, and over a period of years we did develop Arcia and other varieties that we feel are well suited to production in North Carolina,” he adds.

Resource Seeds, which was recently sold to Syngenta, has developed a number of triticale varieties that grow well in the Upper Southeast.

Good varieties available

The combination of university and private breeding programs has developed a number of good varieties. So, triticale production in the Southeast is not being held back by a lack of high quality seed or high performing varieties, the North Carolina State researcher says.

“There are some very positive reasons why we are interested in growing triticale in North Carolina,” Weisz says.

“We are particularly looking for a triticale variety for use on marginal land that is currently planted to wheat. Triticale is hardier and grows well on soil that is under stress, and it’s resistant to most diseases and insects we have in North Carolina,” Weisz says.

“The big problem is the lack of crop insurance. If triticale is to ever become a popular crop, we will have to show there is a yield advantage to it over wheat. And, the livestock industry will have to get behind triticale production and contract with growers to help with risk management to offset the lack of crop insurance.”

Murphy Brown, headquartered in Warsaw, N.C., isthe livestock production subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, Inc. The North Carolina-based company is the world’s largest producer of pork products, and has produced numerous award winning programs to help their contract growers produce quality pork while protecting the environment and preserving family farms.

Recent increases in the price of corn, the primary grain in feeding rations for hogs, combined with ever-increasing grain transportation costs, has led the company to look at alternative, locally produced grain crops to meet the demand for feed by the livestock industry.

Murphy Brown has been instrumental in providing economic incentives and production help for growers to produce more grain sorghum in the Carolinas and Virginia.

The company’s efforts have paid off with a projected huge jump in acres of grain sorghum in North Carolina for the 2012 crop season.

The North Carolina company is putting up more than lip service to grain sorghum production, they are putting money behind it. Murphy-Brown will pay 95 percent of harvest cash price of corn for sorghum delivered to select delivery points.

Pricing can be locked in anytime during CBOT trading hours prior to Dec. 1, 2012.

A signed contract committing to deliver a set number of bushels to a specific delivery point is required.

The company is now looking for crops that can be grown in a double-crop system with grain sorghum. Since much of the grain sorghum land is coming from marginal production land for corn and wheat, there is a naturally occurring need for a crop, like triticale, to be grown on marginal land and used in a double-crop system with grain sorghum.

North Carolina, like most Southeast states, is in a severe grain deficit situation. Whether Murphy Brown, and other livestock-based companies in the Southeast, are willing to offer economically viable contracts for triticale remains to be seen.

If so, grain sorghum and triticale double-cropping, especially on marginal land, may become commonplace in the Upper Southeast.

rroberson@farmpress.com