Safflower Shows Potential as Winter Forage Crop for Dairies

Brian German Dairy & Livestock, Industry

Researchers at UC Davis are looking at the potential of growing safflower as a winter forage crop for dairies. The project is the first of its kind in deliberately growing the crop as forage for dairy cattle in California. The early observations demonstrate quite a bit of promise for the crop.  Further research looking into the crop’s viability for dairy farmers is set to move forward in 2021.


“The idea with safflower is that we might be able to use it – should be able to use it – as part of a multi-year crop rotation to recover some of the water and some of the nitrate that might be lost by shallower rooted crops that precede it in the rotation,” said Steve Kaffka, Extension Specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. “If the forage quality is decent and the yields are good and it’s proven to have that capacity to use water and nutrients that other crops miss then it  becomes a tool that dairy farmers can use.”

The research study demonstrated the proof of concept for growing safflower. The planting was done in the Fall using a grain drill. The initial silage quality test that was taken back in June indicated very good quality. Kaffka said that safflower is showing good potential and could be treated similarly to other small grains. “It would be the same timing, same equipment, and same ensiling techniques used for safflower as for small grain silages. So, the first test was encouraging,” Kaffka noted.

With the assistance of dairy cooperators, the safflower research will be moving out into the fields in the coming year. Researchers will be observing the crop to see if the results are similar to those achieved on the UC Davis campus. Kaffka said it was important to evaluate the crop under more accurate conditions. The soils on dairies will be significantly different after years of manure application and using lagoon water for irrigation. 

While the crop presents a new opportunity for dairy farmers, there are also some concerns. Kaffka said that the crop is susceptible to root rot and planting and irrigation schedules should be planned accordingly. “We’re going to try to learn and see how it goes on dairy settings this year,” Kaffka noted.

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West