April's Ag Advice by April Borders The time is fast approaching to plant spring seeded forages. Whether you are planting a grass or a legume, careful planning and attention to detail will increase the likelihood of success. Here are some tips to help in planning and planting spring seeded forages.
Start by selecting a suitable forage species. Not all forages are adapted to all conditions. Carefully evaluate the area to be planted in order to select a species that has the greatest chance of success. Let's look at some of the things that you will need to consider.
Soil pH needs to be considered. Some species like tall wheatgrass and western wheatgrass can perform well in alkaline conditions but crops like alfalfa are quite sensitive to pH values below 6.5.
Soil moisture and flooding potential is an important factor. Smooth bromegrass, crested wheatgrass and others may be good choices in dry areas. Creeping foxtail and reed canarygrass would be a much better choice for lands which frequently flood in the spring.
Soil testing is important as you need to know your fertility levels on the site you have chosen. Cool-season grasses generally respond well to nitrogen application while legumes do no require additional nitrogen if nodules are effective. Adequate phosphorus will help plants during establishment, and may improve production and quality potential in established stands.
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Previous crop history is very important. Do not plant alfalfa after alfalfa or try to thicken up an old stand of alfalfa with more alfalfa. On the other hand, alfalfa will provide a nitrogen benefit to a subsequent annual or perennial cool-season grass species. Also you need to make sure that you check herbicide carryover. Make sure that herbicides applied to previous crops will not injure or kill the forage being planted.
Plant at the appropriate time. Cool-season grasses and legumes are normally planted from April through the middle part of May. Although planting later than this may work some years, moisture may regularly limit successful establishment. Warm-season grasses are generally planted between the middle of May through the middle of June.
Make sure that you determine the seeding rate using PLS (pure live seed). The only way to ensure that the correct amount of seed is sown is to plant on a PLS basis. Percent PLS is determined by multiplying the percent germination by the percent total viable seed.
Plant an appropriate amount of seed. Place the appropriate amount of seed in each acre of ground. Proper seeding rates range from as little as two pounds pure live seed (PLS) per acre to as high as 20 pounds PLS per acre. So make sure that you have the correct seeding rates for the species you intend to plant.
Planting small seeded forages too deep is one of the primary causes of seeding failure. Most forage seeds are small to very small, therefore, they must be seeded at the correct depth (1/4 to 1/2 inch).
Prepare a firm seedbed. A firm seedbed is critical to successfully establish forages using conventional practices. You should not sink more than 1/2 to one inch deep into the soil as you walk across a conventionally prepared seedbed. Sinking deeper than this is an indication that the seedbed is too loose. No-till seedbeds (e.g. soybean stubble) are usually firm enough for direct seeding.
The correct bacterial inoculant must be applied to legume seed to ensure successful nodulation and subsequent nitrogen fixation. Alfalfa requires a different inoculant than field peas, and other legumes may require other bacterial species.
Careful planning and paying attention to details will help you achieving a productive stand. Other practices may also be incorporated to help you successfully establish forages this spring. It's also nice if you can get a little help from Mother Nature too.
If you are considering planting new alfalfa fields this spring, we are looking for producers that would like to assist us with two alfalfa research projects. One of the projects is to evaluate fall cutting vs. no fall cutting and the effects they have on stand and yield the following year. The other trial will look at the value of potato leafhopper resistance. If you are interested in helping with this SDSU trial, please call the Clay County Extension Office at 677-7111.