Soil and forage testing can help with weed control

emerging corn
(Farm and Dairy photo)

I am delighted to see spring finally arrive and to hang up the winter coat until another season.

By now it is old news that wet and muddy conditions have really impacted crops and pastures — some places more than others.

There is a regular accounting of difficulty finding good hay, the loss of alfalfa here, cows stuck in the mud over there, and dissatisfaction with the rate of gain in the herd.

Now that we are out of the freeze, we are finding some respite, but still gathering up the pieces to try to put it all back into shape.

Right now is a great time to get back to the basics on a few things as we try to make sense of the past year.

The Extension arsenal of recommendations includes advice on such things as forage testing, soil testing, and recommendations on weed control. These are front and center in my conversations right now.

Forage testing

Forage testing will be part of your program to address issues with understanding hay quality and animal energy needs.

Use a forage test to evaluate your hay for feed so that you have a greater knowledge of how much supplement animal feed through the winter.

This is ultimately a measure of energy and knowing how much energy your hay can provide.

It’s best to do this in the fall to have a baseline for understanding what that hay can provide you and if you are buying hay, ask the seller if they have taken a forage analysis.

Book values for approximate pounds of hay per animal per day are 25-28 pounds for cows with calves or 3-6 pounds for sheep.

The forage test will help us understand the actual energy we may be getting out of those pounds.

Soil testing

Get back to the basics by using a soil test. We have put many words to paper about soil tests, and for good reason. Soil fertility matters and some plants do respond differently, so the soil test becomes part of a strategy of trying to promote the species we want in our fields.

Take a soil test now for either renovating or reseeding a field in the fall.

Weed control

Get out and look at the weeds. Spring weed control could happen now. Biennial broadleaf weeds like poison hemlock, common burdock, broadleaf plantain and buckhorn plantain have really stood out to me in the past two weeks. And you can bet plenty of others slipped by me.

I would be remiss if I did not mention spotted knapweed, which is broadleaf public enemy number one. Learn to recognize this plant and eliminate it. No discussion, no rebutting.

If you need weed control, get moving now because once biennials shift to a reproductive phase (think flowering and putting on seed), you have a tougher job making an herbicide do the work it was designed to do.

If you want to get your money out of an herbicide, apply when plants are small and actively growing.

But don’t forget the power of the mower to keep weeds in control and the benefit of a good healthy stand at the onset to keep weeds from creeping in the first place.

Good luck

As I write, in the past 24 hours some of the first corn of the year has gone in the ground. In the next 24 hours, the next cycle rainstorms is expected to begin.


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