Posts Tagged ‘hay’

The Word is Out: Roundup Ready® Alfalfa Gains Approval for Spring Planting

Friday, March 11th, 2011

In a press release through Reuters on Jan. 27, 2011, the word came down that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved GMO alfalfa without restrictions and that the alfalfa can be planted as early as this spring. Surprising few in the agricultural community, Secretary Vilsack stated that there are no doubts about GMO crop safety and that APHIS has determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa.

Many in the industry had expected that a compromise was in the works that would place limitations and restrictions on planting Roundup Ready alfalfa and that the process of defining those limits and restrictions would delay approval past spring planting time. This worry proved unnecessary as no restrictions were announced on Thursday. Many conventional and organic producers are very worried that pollen from Roundup Ready alfalfa carried by the bee pollinators will end up pollinating their conventional or organic alfalfa seed sources. Actual hay and feed producers have less to be concerned about since if they are managing their alfalfa correctly, the crop should never reach the seed set stage of growth. Also since alfalfa has its own regulatory means (autotoxicity) of preventing self-generated seed from germinating and establishing in an established stand of alfalfa, there should be minimal chance of contamination of a stand during its lifetime as a hay, greenchop, haylage, or grazing field.

Secretary Vilsack said that the USDA would promote research into how genetics could be used as a means of preventing contamination and research designed to improve detection of any contamination that might occur. The Secretary will have the USDA set up two advisory committees to help ensure the availability of high-quality seed and to set up programs to try to protect the purity of the alfalfa germplasm base.

Time for Frost Crack Seeding of Small-Seeded Legumes

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomist;

Many growers like to overseed with legumes into their pasture and hay fields by using a method called frost-crack seeding. An article with full details was published in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Agronomist Quarterly Newsletter in September 2006 in Issue 1, Number 3 for those who would like a more detailed description of the seeding method. This publication is available on-line at either of the following locations: – look for Mid-Atlantic Regional Agronomy Newsletter
or -click on Newsletter

For a quick review, let’s look at the seven steps to take when considering a frost-crack seeding of forage legumes.

Step 1. Evaluate your soil fertility and soil pH status either by reviewing past soil test reports or in the fall prior to the seeding taking a soil sample of the chosen field. Make corrections in pH by liming the fall or spring before overseeding as well as making corrections in the phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) status. You should avoid nitrogen (N) fertilizer additions in the fall prior to frost seeding the field as fall applied N will be picked up and stored by the grasses (and weeds) present and will stimulate serious competition for the legume seedlings the next spring.

If you’ve waited until the spring of the frost crack seeding, as many of us do, then use your old soil tests to determine the field’s fertility status and take this into account when you are making your species selection in Step 3 below.

Step 2. Provide seedlings with more sunlight and less competition as well as make it easier to get soil to seed contact. By this I mean that, when possible, the fall before a frost-crack seeding, you should graze or mow the field very close to stress the grass present to make it less competitive the following spring. This activity can be repeated just before overseeding to maximize soil exposure to the seed and to freezing and thawing temperatures.

Step 3. Select the correct species for your situation. In the Mid-Atlantic region, we have three primary clover species from which to select. For fields that are generally wetter or lower in soil pH, alsike clover may be the best choice. All-around, white or ladino clover seems to respond best to this method of seeding, especially under good soil fertility levels. Red clover is another species that responds well to frost-crack seeding but it is a taller growing species but like alsike clover it is a short-lived perennial.

If you decide to base your selection on the grazing animal species you have, then for horses I would choose white clover. You will need to keep the seedling rate lower since we recommend not having more than about 20 percent white clover in a horse pasture even though this limits the effectiveness of the legume in providing N for the companion grass crop. For beef, all three species are suitable but for small ruminants where close grazing occurs, white clover is probably the best choice.

For hay production fields where some legume contributed N is desired to boost grass yields and lower N fertilizer costs, the choice is more problematic. The tall growing species, red clover and alsike clover, have certain limitations. Red clover is more difficult to dry and because of the fine hairs that are on stems, petioles, and leaves it can make for dusty hay. Alsike clover is not suitable for the horse hay market since some horses develop alsike clover poisoning which shows up as photosensitivity causing the animal to sunburn easily. I’ve seen a vigorous tall growing ladino-type of white clover used in hay but its contribution to yield is limited to leaves and petioles since the stem stays on the soil surface. Ladino-grass hay for second and third cuttings can be very good although producers often are disappointed in the amount of legume in first cutting hay.

Finally on species selection, many of the species that contain quantities of condensed tannins that are thought to be useful in small ruminant parasite control are very difficult to establish using the frost-crack seeding method. The legumes in this category such as Birdsfoot trefoil and Sericea lespedeza are suited for more conventional seeding methods.

Step 4. Inoculate the seed before planting. Although we consider the probability very high that white, red, and alsike cover inoculating bacteria are present in all pasture and hay fields, a good habit to get in is to either buy preinoculated seed or inoculant for the seed. If preinoculated seed is past its sell by date, you should add more inoculate before seeding. Also when you buy the inoculant, check the label to be sure that you are within the expiration date on the package. Inoculant consists of live bacteria so protect its viability by keeping it cool and out of sunlight.

Step 5. Calibrate your seeding method and equipment to be sure that you are putting on the correct amount of seed. Making a pass over a parking area or tarp that’s been placed on the ground is a good way to check both the width of the application pass and the density of seeds per square foot. Careful attention to this detail will pay extra dividends later in the season. This is especially true for broadcast spreaders or cyclone spreaders that fling the seed outward. Although clover seed is light it is fairly dense and may not travel as far as you expect.

Step 6. Frost seed at the correct time. Do not frost seed so early that the seed sits on frozen soil where heavy rainfall can move it off site. Also, do not frost seed on snow covered soil since rapid snow melt can again move the seed off-site. Instead seed in very early spring once the soil has at least begun to thaw, daytime temperatures are enough above freezing that the surface of the soil will thaw, and nighttime temperature are below freezing. You will need a number of weeks of this type of weather (at least off and on) to work the seed into the soil. You can also help in this process by allowing grazing animals access to the pasture or by running over hay fields with the tractor and mower. In addition to pressing the seed into the soil, you will also help reduce competition against the legume seedlings as they emerge and try to establish themselves.

Step 7—The Final Step. Essentially by returning to Step 2, your goal again is to control spring vegetation growth to encourage enough sunlight, nutrients, and water reaching the legume seedlings that they can effectively compete and establish themselves. Grazing can again help at this step but you will need to manage the grazing intensity closely as well as frequently so that you prevent the animals from grazing the tender young leaves of the new legume plants. As soon as you notice animals feeding on the new legumes or the legume reaches a height that will tempt the animals, remove them and change over to mowing. Once the plants have 6 to 8 trifoliate leaves or reach a height of 3 to 4 inches, the legume should be able to compete with the grass and weeds present in the pasture or hay field. Do not apply N-containing fertilizers since this will stimulate grass growth and suppress the nitrogen fixing ability of the legumes. Use grazing or hay harvest management techniques and fertilizer (lime, P, and K) management to favor the legume species you frost seeded. A rotational grazing system or hay cut system designed for the legume seeded can help ensure a longer lasting stand.

Consider Temporary Annual Forage Crops for Fields to be Planted Later this Year

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomist;

If you were one of those producers whose pasture or hay field replanting was prevented by this past spring’s cold rainy weather, now is the time to consider a method of preparing the field for late-summer/early-fall (LS/EF) reseeding. The beginning of June’s hot weather (warm soil conditions) is ideal for seeding warm-season annual, weed-suppressing grasses such as hybrid pearl millet, sudangrass, the sorghum-sudangrass hybrids, or even teff. These grasses, if seeded when soil temperatures are >75° F and adequate soil moisture is present, can germinate and establish very rapidly. They have the ability to suppress many weed species and can add organic matter to the soil via the root mass left at the end of the season or the root mass plus final top growth of the season.

Another advantage of the warm-season annual grasses comes from the need for land preparation prior to the permanent LS/EF seeding. This soil preparation provides the producer with the opportunity to check the pasture or hay field’s soil fertility status and to make early adjustments that can be rechecked prior to planting the more expensive perennial grass seed. As an agronomist, I typically recommend checking six months to a year ahead of reseeding a field so that pH adjustment (liming) and nutrient amendments (phosphorus, potassium, or manures) can be applied and will have time to correct any problems in the field. Although the timing here may be tight, it still will allow a producer to recheck the field before establishing the permanent cover.

Another obvious benefit is the increased tonnage the summer annuals offer forage producers. However, care must be taken in selecting not only the annual grass species but the animal species that the forage will feed. Summer annual grasses can have a number of limitations/problems that can be successfully managed by the knowledgeable producer.

Common to all the species (even the cool-season grasses) is the potential for nitrate accumulation and nitrate toxicity during drought or cloudy weather when nitrates are not metabolized rapidly enough by the plant into proteins and amino acids. Nitrates taken up from the soil then accumulate, especially in the lower stems, and can reach toxic levels and are not reduced during hay harvest. Cyanide toxicity issues exist for sudangrass and the sorghum-sudangrass hybrids but this can be managed with grazing or cutting height. Sorghum species and species such as foxtail millet (Setaria spp.) can be harmful to horses (cystitis problems to name one concern). Hybrid pearl millet and pearl millet do not cause these problems and are generally considered safe for horses. Most of the species also have thick stems and large leaves that make hay making a bit more challenging. With careful management, the benefits from weed suppression, forage production, soil tilth, and early soil fertility adjustment out-weigh other concerns.

Hay and Pasture and Potash

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomist;

Although it’s a little earlier than normal, I think it’s time to start thinking of applying spring potash (K) and phosphorus (P) fertilizer to your pasture and hay fields. For the hay fields, you will want to wait until after the first harvest, but I’ve seen a number of fields at heading (grasses) or late bud (alfalfa) which is a good time to harvest a good to excellent quality hay. For those more interested in tonnage, you’ll be holding off harvest for a few more weeks but you can still plan ahead for when your fields will be ready to fertilize with P and K and another shot of nitrogen (N). The warm weather of the past week and the period of very warm weather earlier this spring has orchardgrass and many other cool-season grasses heading out already. Early May is also, on average, a time when we have the greatest chance of a period of warm sunny weather long enough to dry hay.

Potassium or potash is a very critical element that helps plants tolerate the stresses of heat, drought, insects, and diseases that attack cool-season grasses in the summer. Although the price of K is high at the present time, the corresponding benefits of K fertilization will help you afford the cost of fertilizing with K. Many growers have chosen to either lower their K fertilization rates or eliminate them completely during the past couple of years when the price of fertilizer has been very high. If you have a current soil test, check the recommendations for how much K might be needed. If your soil test is not current you should get one as soon as possible to determine how much K you should apply or to see if the soil test levels are falling too rapidly.

In general if both P and K are needed by your hay or pasture field, add the P and half the K after the first hay harvest or in late-May or early June and then add the second half of the K recommendation in late August or early September. This timing will allow the plant to prepare for the stresses of summer and then for the stresses of winter.

Spring Wake-Up of Pasture and Hay Fields

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomist;

It’s hoped that your pastures and hay fields have made it successfully through another winter. Now it’s time to get pastures actively growing for the needed grazing to extend your hay supplies or reduce the need to buy more hay and it’s time for hay fields to green up and be ready for the first good hay making weather later this spring. Many of our hay and pasture fields have had a relatively hard winter with little snow cover and some very cold temperatures.

If the stands have thinned a little or if you just want to speed up growth this spring to be able to graze earlier or boost spring hay yields, now is the time to add a bit of nitrogen (N) to give the grasses a boost. If the field has a good amount of legume present, you should restrict the amount of N applied at any one time to no more than about 30 lbs N/acre. However if few legumes are present in the field, then addition of 50 to 75 lbs N/acre will stimulate the grass to grow and fill in bare spots or at least tiller out fully to help shade out weeds that might try to fill in any void spots.

Unless your soil test shows low to very low levels of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), you should wait until after the first hay harvest or early to mid-June to apply the P and K that might be required according to your soil test recommendations or your nutrient management plan. Generally, the freezing and thawing and other reactions that occur over the winter months will release enough available K and P to support spring forage growth.

Planning for the Second Hay Harvest

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomist;

 With a weather forecast indicating the likelihood of several inches of rainfall over the next five to seven day period, the soil surface moisture levels will be recharged so that hay producers either finished with, or about to begin their first hay harvest need to begin planning for the second hay harvest. In particular, as soon as the first harvest is removed from the field, nitrogen (N) fertilizer and the recommended amount of potassium (potash) and phosphorus should be applied to boost the yield potential for the second harvest cycle. Nitrogen, of course, is the key to promoting extra yield potential but potash also will be essential to help the forage grow well during the early summer high temperatures and with low available subsoil moisture. The latest research results from The Pennsylvania State University suggest adding 50 lb N/acre per ton of expected yield for orchardgrass, 60 lbs N/acre per ton of expected yield to timothy, and as much as 70 lbs N/acre per ton of expected yield to tall fescue. With all of these species, if drought conditions develop, the grower needs to carefully monitor any hay harvested for nitrate levels to prevent potential problems with nitrate toxicity.

Update on Hay and Pasture Crop Irrigation

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomist;

Many of our hay and pasture species are just beginning the rapid growth phase that occurs each spring. More and more hay and pasture fields are set up to receive irrigation. The limited rainfall the southern half of the state has received so far this spring means that the soil water supply will be rapidly depleted as the cool-season hay and pasture grasses enter the rapid growth phase. Orchardgrass, in particular, since it matures earlier than many of the other species we grow, will be using large quantities of water during the next few weeks. If you are set up to irrigate hay and pasture fields, now is the time to begin the irrigation system. Try not to let the soil moisture levels be lowered to the point that water stress symptoms actually show up on the crop. As the species enter the rapid growth phase of spring, water use will increase from about a tenth of an inch of water per day to a quarter inch or more water per day. To keep fields actively growing, be sure to replace that quantity of water each week. When warmer temperatures occur in June, water use can increase to that approaching corn (about a third of an inch per day) so your irrigation regime will need to increase as summer approaches. Keep in mind that you will need to stop irrigation long enough for the soil to dry enough to support haying and baling equipment without causing significant compaction. It’s also usually best to wait until the crop begins regrowth before resuming irrigation so that you do not encourage weeds.

It also is time to get nitrogen (N) out on irrigated and non-irrigated hay and pasture fields. For hay, the latest research from Pennsylvania State University and Dr. Marvin Hall’s team shows that you should be applying about 50 lbs of N per acre per ton of expected yield. This is a good compromise between maximum economic yield from the hay and the risk of high nitrate levels in the hay if the crop becomes very drought stressed. For pastures, our N recommendations still vary based on the amount of legume in the pasture. If pastures contain a one to one ratio of legume to grass (50 percent of the biomass-forage-comes from the legume), additional N fertilizer will not be needed. If the legume component makes up between 25 and 50 percent of the forage, then apply about 25 lbs N/acre and if there is less than 25 percent legume in the forage, you may need as much as 50 lbs N/acre to maximize productivity of the pasture.