20 Tips for 2020 Pastures!
We are only a few short weeks away from spring seeding, and it’s time to make a plan! The early-bird gets the worm, so plan ahead to maximize spring pastures with these tips:
1. Scout Now: 2018 & 2019 were hard on established pastures. A lot of fields had tremendous levels of winterkill, especially alfalfa. Many fields had areas where plants were viable for first cut of 2019 but were gone by mid-summer. Take advantage of the lack of snow cover and walk fields to determine areas of priority and start creating a plan!
2. Check Fertility: Look over recent soil test results (or if it has been longer than four years, retest once soils are thawed and dry) with your ag retailer or advisor, and determine if any fertilizer applications are necessary, or if they can wait until fall. Don’t forget that micros are important too!
3. Beware of Carryover: If you are reseeding this spring, make sure that any herbicide applications in 2019 will not cause problems with establishing a new crop. With the late planting in 2019, some applications were made later than normal, and could cause potential problems. Check all herbicide labels for plant back restrictions and livestock restrictions.
4. Frost Seeding: Take advantage of the winter-hardiness of some popular legumes and grasses such as red clover, ladino clover, orchardgrass, timothy, fescue and ryegrass and frost seed them before all the snow and freeze-thaw cycles are gone! This is an economical way of thickening pastures without starting over!
5. Legumes: Adding legumes can greatly increase pasture productivity! The nitrogen they produce can enhance grass yields and lower supplemental nitrogen costs!
6. Inoculate: Don’t forget to use an inoculant on legumes. Check your seed tags to see if the seed is pre-inoculated (and if so, if it is still viable / not out of date). If not inoculated, order an inoculant meant specifically for the species you are seeding.
7. Nurse / Companion Crops: Invest in oats, annual ryegrass or Frosty clover as a companion to newly established seedings to enhance first year protection and help reduce weed competition.
8. Turn-Out Timing: Wait until established grasses are 4-6” tall before turning livestock onto the pasture. For new seedings, wait until you are not pulling roots up.
9. Invest in Hotwire: Hotwire is an excellent investment to keep animals off newly establishing areas if you are just touching up certain areas. Hotwires can also be effective for creating smaller areas within larger pastures to help improve harvest efficiency and reduce costs!
10. Prepare a Sacrifice Area: Have an area in mind that you will move livestock to when conditions are damaging. Have a few acres that you can sacrifice in wet conditions, versus having to fix the whole pasture. This will save you time, effort and money. Many producers use cereal rye or Italian ryegrass on sacrifice areas as they grow very rapidly.
11. Focus on Value not Cost: Cost is what you pay, value is what you get. Spending a few dollars more per acre at establishment, may pay dividends over the lifetime of a stand. Make sure you not only have enough seed, but that you have the right seed! Consider improved varieties that may cost $.50 more per pound, but will have improved palatability, nutritional value, persistence and yield. That extra $5.00 per acre, is pretty easy to cover over a five-year period if hay is ~$100 per ton!
12. Fast Growth Forage: For fields that you will redo in the fall, consider adding forage oats and/or forage peas to increase yield in early spring, rotate to teff in June, terminate teff, and establish perennial pasture in the fall! Or if you miss the spring seeding window, consider teff grass or other summer annual options before you establish perennial pasture in fall.
13. Plan for Summer Slump: Most perennial species’ production drops in July & August. Consider planting an area of teff grass, sudangrass or millet for grazing in this time frame. Another option is to overseed a cool-season pasture with species that will be productive mid-summer like crabgrass or forage brassicas. Have an area in mind for this now, so that it will be easy to achieve in summer.
14. Planting Timing: Make sure you are planting at the optimal timing for species in your area. If you plant too early plants may be killed by frost or susceptible to cool-season diseases, but plant too late and they may not be able to establish a good root system before it gets hot and dry.
15. Depth: Make sure you check depth as soils or conditions change in a field. Just because the seeding depth was correct where the ground was firm, does not mean it will be correct in the area that was worked! Depth is critically important to small seeds and is the most common cause of poor stands.
16. Maturity: Not every variety works well together. Work with your supplier to choose grasses and legumes that will mature at similar times to maximize your yield, quality, and persistence. For example, choose late maturing Orchardgrass to compliment alfalfa.
17. Reasonable Expectations: Make sure what you are planting will work where you are planting it! Alfalfa will not work in areas that are typically wet. Branched-root alfalfas will help but consider grasses or alsike clover as well. For really wet areas that tend to flood, consider reed canarygrass. Sandy soils do not always support perennial pastures and are especially unlikely to succeed when planted in spring.
18. Check Your Seed Tags: Whether you are buying new seed or using leftover seed in your shed, it is important to know what percent of it will germinate and adjust rates accordingly! Typically, the recommended rate is based on 85% or higher germination. If the germination of your seed is less, up the rate. If your seed has not been tested in the past 12 months, send a sample to an accredited lab, or run a small sample in a plastic bag to get an idea of the germination!
19. Save Seed Tags: Make sure to save at least one tag per variety or lot number that you plant. This is especially important if you are doing a government cost share. Having a tag can help resolve a situation if the stand is not at an optimal level by showing your supplier exactly what you had!
20. Talk to Your Seed Supplier: Most important of all, talk with your trusted seed supplier! They can help you with ideas, products, rates, and more! Talking to them early, allows them time to make sure they have the seed you want on hand when you need it!