Fall forage seeding? Remember the basics


PRINCETON, Ky. – Fall is an optimum time for planting cool season grasses. As that time approaches, farmers should be considering what steps to take to ensure a successful planting.

There are a lot of good agronomic and economic reasons to do everything to increase the probability of getting a good thick, dense, weed-free stand of whatever forage is planted, said Garry Lacefield, a forage specialist with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

“If you have to reseed, it more than doubles the cost of establishing,” he said. “Plus, a lot of Kentucky’s forages are grown on rolling land, so if we don’t get it established it opens up the possibility of erosion.”

Stick to the basics. To increase the chances of getting a good stand established, it is important to remember and stick to the basics.

That includes taking a look at what forages already exist on the farm so the new seeding will be something to complement what is already there.

“We should think about what are our weak points, what are our voids, how can we use this field to complement our other forages and to extend our grazing season,” Lacefield said.

Before making the decision on a specific forage type, farmers should look at their soils to determine what they are capable of growing, he said.

For example, if the soil has extreme drainage problems or is extremely low on fertility, then that field may not be a good candidate for alfalfa.

Soil testing. Then, get more specific with soils and take a soil test. A soil test is the most agronomically and economically important thing a farmer can do relative to fertility.

From this baseline, a farmer can determine what nutrients are needed for the particular forage crop.

Fertilize. Be sure to fertilize to the level needed for what will ultimately be in the field, Lacefield said.

If a farmer plans to sow red clover in the spring into a field that was seeded with fescue the previous fall, then any fertilizer added that fall must also meet the fertility requirements for clover establishment.

Varieties. After determining the forage crop to be planted, it is extremely important to determine what varieties will be used, he said.

The University of Kentucky has an aggressive variety-testing program. Testing is done in many locations across the state on all species agronomically important to Kentucky.

Lacefield recommends farmers visit their county extension agent or go to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture’s Web site to review the latest variety trial information on the species they plan to seed.

To find the variety trial information go www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/pubs.htm, click on research reports, then scroll down the list of publications until finding the one for a specific forage.

“This is extremely important, because variety selection can make the difference between success and failure,” Lacefield said. “It can make the difference between making money or losing money.”

Seeding method. Seeding method is another basic ingredient to a successful forage crop. There are several methods that work well in Kentucky – overseeding, preparing seedbeds and no-till.

The key is to have good seed to soil contact and seed at the right depth and rate. Most forage seedings are at a very shallow depth – usually a quarter to half-inch.

Dates. Seeding dates also are important.

Often if conditions are dry, farmers tend to wait and can miss the window of opportunity for sowing these crops. If alfalfa is not planted by Sept.15, then Lacefield recommends planting a small grain in the fall and following that with alfalfa in the spring. Grasses can be planted into October but it is best to get them in between the middle of August to late September.

One factor farmers can’t control is the amount of moisture in the soil. It takes 100 to 150 percent of the seed’s weight in water to get a seed to germinate, Lacefield said.

Once they begin to emerge farmers should watch them and if any problem develops, then determine what it is and develop a strategy for dealing with it.


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