Posts Tagged ‘hay & pasture establishment’

Thinking of Renovating or Planting a New Pasture or Hay Field? Part 3: Pasture and Hay Planting Time Has Arrived

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomist; rtaylor@udel.edu

In previous articles, I’ve discussed some of the decisions and planning that needs to be taken ahead of planting hay and pasture fields but we now have entered the ideal planting time for forage grasses and legumes. This holds true at least for those parts of the state that have received the recent rainfall — some areas in southern Delaware still have inadequate soil moisture levels to even think about attempting to seed new forage fields. For those areas that have remained dry and do not receive the rain currently in the forecast over the next five days, the decision to plant will have to be delayed until adequate surface and subsoil moisture is present.

Some species have specific requirements that limit how late in the fall you can plant. For example, reed cararygrass requires at least six weeks between planting and the average date of the first frost, otherwise the crop can be winterkilled or be severely weakened over the winter so that it’s unable to compete with the usual weed competition crops experience in the spring. Other species, such as Kentucky bluegrass, just take a very long time (21 to 28 days) to germinate and begin fall growth and so should not be planted very late in the fall. Before deciding to plant a species or mixture, be sure to study the species in question to avoid problems with late plantings.

In other areas of the state that received some of the recent downpours and that now have adequate soil moisture reserves, planting can begin. Early planting can lead to well established forage seedings that will be able to survive the winter and get off to an early vigorous start the following spring. Early planted stands are much better at competing against weeds the next spring and will often yields much better as well. Work by Dr. Marvin Hall at the Pennsylvania State University showed significant yield decreases for all forage species tested as the date of fall planting was delayed with higher losses occurring the further north the site was located.

If planting into a prepared/tilled seedbed, be sure that all weeds have been killed during soil preparation and that a good smooth (clod-free), firm (your shoe should not sink deeper than the sole level) seedbed is prepared for planting. Seed can then be broadcast over the seedbed and then firmed into the soil with any number of devices but seed should only be pressed into the soil and not buried more than 1/8 to ¼ inch deep. Covering the seed is ideal since the seed will be able to take in water from the soil but not be quickly dried out again by the sun’s rays. Seed can also be planted using a brillion seeder followed by a cultipacker or roller or seed can be placed in the soil using a drill. Since drills place the seed in rows from 4 to 8 inches apart, depending on the drill, I generally recommend that you drill at half the recommended seeding rate and run the drill at about a 45 degree angle across the field. This will help bring the rows closer together and allow the seedlings to more rapidly fill in the space so competing weeds can’t find space to grow.

Another method of seeding is to use a no-till drill following an herbicide burndown program. This is especially useful when perennial weeds with underground rhizome systems are present. Examples of these weeds are hemp dogbane, Canada thistle, and horsenettle. Although several herbicide treatments are often needed to get these weeds under control, one of the best times to apply herbicide is in the fall when the weeds are sending carbohydrates (sugars) down into the underground storage organs (rhizomes). If a systemic herbicide that can move in the plant is used, it will be taken with the sugars down to the rhizomes and help kill the meristem buds or next year’s growing sites in the weed. Read the herbicide label for exact requirements between treatment and seeding but generally for Roundup® or glyphosate you should wait several weeks after herbicide application before planting.

The no-till drills are similar to other grain drills in that the seed is placed in rows and then the open slot in the soil is closed with some type of packer wheels. I again recommend that you calibrate the drill for half the seeding rate and go over the area twice at a 45 degree angle to minimize the distance between rows.

In all cases I’ve talked about above, be certain to calibrate your seeding equipment and make sure the drills or other equipment is clean and functional before entering the field. These days forage seed is quite expensive so make the most of the money you spend by accurately calibrating your equipment. This involves the following procedure: weigh out some seed to add to the planting equipment, determine the width of area covered with seed by the equipment (in feet), run it for a certain number of feet (the length—say 50 or 100 feet); multiplying the two numbers together to get the number of square feet covered by the seed; divide that number by 43,560 (number of square feet in one acre); and finally weigh the amount of seed remaining in the equipment. Subtract the final weight from initial weight and divide that number by the number of acres you covered (usually this will be a number such as 0.15 or even 0.015 or other very small number). If your seed weights were in pounds of seed then the number you calculate at the end will be in pounds per acre or if you had access to an egg scale or something that measures in grams then divide the number of grams of seed used by 454 (grams per pound) to obtain pounds of seed and then divide that number by the number of acres planted in the calibration test. If all else fails, email me or give me a call and I’ll help you do the calculations.

The other articles in this series are:

Thinking of Renovating or Planting a New Pasture or Hay Field? Part 2: Planning to Planting

Thinking of Renovating or Planting a New Pasture or Hay Field? Part 1: The Pre-Planning Process

Thinking of Renovating or Planting a New Pasture or Hay Field? Part 2: Planning to Planting

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomist; rtaylor@udel.edu

I wrote about preplanning process two weeks ago (Thinking of Renovating or Planting a New Pasture or Hay Field? Part 1: The Pre-Planning Process) so now it’s on to the planning and planting process. One of the biggest challenges these days, especially if you have a low acreage field, is finding someone with both the right sized equipment to fit the field and a willingness to do the job for you in a timely fashion. Of course even if you’re lucky enough to find the equipment and operator, cost is going to be a critical factor when making the decisions of what parts of the plan are actually doable. Another factor that’s come up recently is the availability of forage seed. Many of the forage seed producers have eliminated production fields in favor of corn or soybeans which now sell for very alluring prices.

In planning the whole procedure, your time will be a valuable asset. With high prices, limited seed supply, and challenges in finding equipment and help to fertilize, lime, control weeds, and plant seeds, the time you take to shop around should pay big benefits and August is the month to do these chores because planting season is rapidly approaching.

For planting date, forage agronomists often list from mid-August through September as being the time to plant as long as soil moisture is adequate. Soil moisture for many hay producers and grazers in the state and region really will be at critically low levels for much of August. This can extend late into September due to the drought and hot weather conditions we usually experience during July and August. With all our pre-planning and planning activities, the final decision on when to plant and even whether to plant on time will be determined by the weather conditions during August and September. You may be tempted to plant as soon as the field receives the first rainfall in the planting window but you should keep in mind that if the deeper layers of soil are deficient in moisture the new planting will likely fail if fall turns dry. Use a shovel or your soil probe to test the soil for moisture at the 6 to 12 inch depth. If the field hasn’t received enough rainfall to supply this soil depth with at least some water, a new planting will be very much at risk if rain events do not continue from planting until winter dormancy takes hold. Only you know the amount of risk you are willing to take to establish the new seeding this season and none of us know what the future weather will be.

What if enough rain to supply water to the deeper soil layers doesn’t fall until very late in September? Certain species, such as low alkaloid reed canary grass, require a specific amount of time between planting and first frost (six weeks minimum for reed canary grass) but almost all species will not only yield less the following year but take a lot more time to reach full establishment if planted late. Again, the hay producer or grazer must evaluate the amount of risk they are willing to take on when deciding to plant after September.

You should maintain frequent contact with your fertilizer/lime dealer, seed dealer, equipment supplier, and others who will be helping you with the process of planting the new pasture or hay field. If you will be using equipment provided through the county conservation districts, be sure to get your name on the list as early as possible since many folks may want to seed about the same time when moisture conditions become favorable.

What’s the best means of seeding fields, no-till or conventional tillage (a prepared, weed-free, firm seedbed)? As with any choice, there are advantages and disadvantages to each method. Both seeding methods allow for weed control activities before seeding but no-till is limited only to herbicide applications. Whenever deciding on an herbicide to use, read the label carefully to be sure there are no rotation restrictions of what can be seeded following the herbicide application or how many days or months must separate the application and seeding activities. Also use the label to determine if a single application will be all that is needed or whether you will need follow-up applications and if you will at what stage of growth must the new seedlings reach before the next application is applied. This latter concern is especially important for perennial and hard to kill weeds such as hemp dogbane, Canada thistle, horsenettle, and others.

No-till drills must be calibrated properly to deliver the correct amount of seed per acre as well as be set to place the seed at the correct seeding depth with adequate soil to seed contact for fast germination and emergence. Never assume that the last person to use the drill set it up properly for your seeding. When you spend a hundred or more dollars per acre just for seed, you need to be sure the seed is being planted as best as possible to ensure a successful establishment. No-till drills also place the seed in rows usually from 7 to 10 inches apart so it often is useful to cover the seeded area in two directions making a cross hatch pattern over the field to help the plants fill in the space quicker. Brillion seeders that broadcast seed over a prepared seedbed and then press the seed into the soil have the advantage of achieving canopy closure much sooner than no-till seedings.

Canopy closure is when the new plants get large enough that they are able to shade the underlying soil and therefore reduce the ability of weeds to germinate and establish in the field. Fields seeded with no-till drills can take many years (if ever) to fill in, so that a full canopy exists during normal grazing activity. This is one disadvantage to the no-till drill although it is offset by the soil conservation advantage of no-till when a field has enough slope to allow significant water erosion or enough exposure to allow wind erosion problems if the weather turns dry again.

Which method is best? Since each has both advantages and disadvantages, it will depend on your situation. No-till helps conserve the soil in situations where soil can be lost; it reduces moisture loss since the soil is not disturbed; it doesn’t encourage new weed growth since buried weed seeds aren’t brought to the surface; it does not introduce oxygen into the soil causing the soil organic matter to be reduced via oxidation; and when done correctly it ensures rapid germination and emergence, since seeds are placed in the soil and soil is firmed around the seeds. From the negative side, no-till does not allow nutrients and lime to be worked into the soil profile; no-till does not help break up compaction issues from previous grazing or haying equipment use; and no-till seedings are often in rows that can be seen for years in some cases.

Conventional tillage does allow nutrients and lime to be incorporated in the soil; it allows tillage during the summer to help with weed control issues; it allows for the summer establishment of annual smother crops for weed control and to introduce organic matter into the soil; it allows you to rip fields to help alleviate compaction issues; and it allows seed to be broadcast to ensure rapid canopy closure. Some of the disadvantages include the loss of soil moisture during the tillage operation as well as the loss of soil organic matter during tillage. The above lists of advantages and disadvantages are not meant to be exhaustive but to point to some of the important factors you should consider when deciding on seeding method.

The other articles in this series are:

Thinking of Renovating or Planting a New Pasture or Hay Field? Part 3: Pasture and Hay Planting Time Has Arrived

Thinking of Renovating or Planting a New Pasture or Hay Field? Part 1: The Pre-Planning Process

Thinking of Renovating or Planting a New Pasture or Hay Field? Part 1: The Pre-Planning Process

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomist; rtaylor@udel.edu

I have received several requests over the past several weeks concerning overseeding or renovating pasture and hay fields and feel it’s a good time to begin a discussion on the process. All too often, we find ourselves moving into mid to late fall without having taken the time to really consider all decisions that have to go into improving the odds that the planting will be successful. You need to keep in mind that seed costs alone can equate to a hundred dollar an acre investment; and, if we really take into account all the variable costs, that new pasture or hay field can easily represent an investment of hundreds of dollars per acre.

So in the pre-planning process, what’s first? I know many get tired of hearing the phrase but testing the fertility of your soil far ahead of time is still the number one issue. If the field will not be tilled and you have not been applying significant quantities of commercial nitrogen (N) fertilizer to the field, sample at 0 to 4 inches deep in each field or management zone (an area of the field treated in a similar fashion and not much different from other areas of the field in soil type).

If you have used large quantities of commercial N fertilizer in the past, you really should take both a 0-2 inch depth sample for determining the soil acidity in the upper soil layer as well as a 0 to 4 inch depth sample for nutrient content (phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and other essential elements).

The reason for this distinction is that the ammonium or urea N forms that we apply as fertilizer are converted by soil bacteria into nitrate and in the process acidity is released into the soil. Since the N is all surface applied, the release of acidity near the soil surface can create a condition known as ‘acid roof’ where the top inch or two of soil is much more acidic than the deeper layers of soil. A second reason involves the very slow movement of limestone down through the soil. Studies on pastures in Connecticut many decades ago showed that lime moves at a rate of about 1 inch per year so it takes a very long time to have an impact on the entire rooting zone of forage grass and legume plants.

For fields that will be tilled and a new planting established, the traditional plow layer sample (0 to 8 inches) for both soil pH (acidity) and essential nutrient status will be the correct choice. If the soil sample indicates that the soil must be limed, apply the recommended amount of limestone and work it into the soil as soon as possible to allow time for the limestone to neutralize soil acidity before planting time. Although, if it remains dry, lime may not completely react, and a second soil test still would be useful to determine if any additional lime will be needed. Additional agricultural lime and the recommended phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) and any other needed nutrients can be applied and worked into the soil shortly before planting the field.

Everyone asks the question of whether to apply N at the time you plant a new field or seed a field you are renovating. My preference is that you should wait until the new grass is several inches tall and has enough biomass and roots to compete for the applied N and to store any extra N for future growth. Until forage plants have enough leaf area to rapidly capture the sun’s energy and convert it into more plant tissue or into sugars for storage, weeds in new plantings or the current vegetation in renovations are likely to outcompete the new seedlings for N and then for light, water, and other nutrients. When waiting to apply N although weeds and current vegetation will still be present, the new seedlings will at least be in a better competitive position when the N is finally available to stimulate growth.

Now that you’ve taken care of any soil fertility issues that can reduce the chance for a successful stand, the next decision involves choosing the right seed to plant. I’ve had the opportunity over the years to read many seed labels on various pasture mixes offered for sale. I understand the convenience of buying a prepared pasture mix and the allure of these mixes. The buyer often assumes that the seller has spent the time and energy studying the issue and has come up with a mixture that in their opinion and experience has the best chance of success. I certainly can’t speak to motivation of the seller but keep in mind that from a business point of view, seed that is mixed and offered for sale need to be sold over as large an area as possible to justify the expense of wholesaling large quantities of seed, blending, packaging, and labeling the seed. In my opinion, this nullifies the expectation that the seller has designed the mix for your particular field or location.

After looking at the species of forages used in the prepared pasture mixes, I find that these mixes are more like a shotgun approach to seeding where you plant a little of everything in hopes that something will establish in all areas of the field. Usually they contain a quick establishing grass such as ryegrass that can germinate in as little as 5 to 7 days so the buyer can feel comfortable with the new seeding. The mixes also usually contain the feel-good or highly recognized grasses such as timothy and Kentucky bluegrass in horse pasture mixes and at least some orchardgrass and probably an endophyte-free tall fescue to provide more permanent cover. Finally, a legume such as white or ladino clover, red clover, or alsike clover will be in a pasture mix to provide the N-fixing legume everyone would like in a pasture.

The convenience of these mixtures comes from not having to mix them yourself before you fill the seed drill and the allure comes from not having to make a decision other than how much seed per acre to plant and not having to choose individual species to plant. For most buyers, the convenience and allure end up costing them many, many dollars per acre in seed costs for seed of grasses that won’t survive in grazing situations or won’t survive more than a season or two at best or will be unproductive for much of the grazing season.

So what should you do? I prefer going with a simpler mixture using forage species that are adapted to our region. In most cases, the only species that will survive for many years in our transitional zone climate is tall fescue. Because of endophyte (an fungus growing in some tall fescue plants) issues, many growers have tried the endophyte-free tall fescue varieties and some have had success with keeping a stand for many years while others have seed stands decline or disappear quickly. The newest chapter in this issue has been the development of novel or friendly endophyte tall fescue varieties. The novel endophyte tall fescue varieties do not produce the chemical compound (alkaloids) that interfere with animal performance but still provide benefits to the tall fescue plants helping them survive in many stressful environments. A limitation still in evidence with these new tall fescue varieties is that horse owners who breed horses do not all accept tall fescue as a feed source for their animals. This limits tall fescue’s acceptance.

What other species can you include in your simple mixture? Orchardgrass is another grass that many producers like to include in a pasture mixture but you should be aware that many orchardgrass fields are failing due to a disease/insect/environment/management complex interaction we’ve been calling orchardgrass decline. If you choose to include orchardgrass, keep it as a small proportion of your mixture. The other grass to include at least on the heavier soils is Kentucky bluegrass. Be sure to include several varieties of the Kentucky bluegrass to help with disease resistance. It will be most productive early in the year (early spring to early summer) and mid- to late-fall. Finally, add in a legume to help with providing N for the grass to use as well as to improve the protein and forage digestibility of the pasture. For grazing, most people prefer a ladino-type of white clover. Although slobbers (the animal produces excessive amounts of saliva) is a potential concern with all clovers, it seems to be mostly associated with red clover. Often included in commercially sold horse pasture mixtures, alsike clover is known to cause photosensitivity (sunburn) especially in horses and should not be included in your pasture mix.

You will find it useful to talk to your seed dealer about the various varieties of each species that are available. Once you decide on the varieties to use and you purchase seed, you can mix your own pasture mix by either purchasing or renting a cement mixer and combining the seed in the proportions you decide are best for your purpose and field. Since many legumes now come pre-inoculated with the N-fixing bacteria and often are coated with a fine limestone, do not over mix the seed and when you re-bag it store it where it is protected from high temperatures and humidity. Stored properly, the seed can be held over the winter if something prevents you from seeding this fall but you should plan to plant as soon as possible after purchasing seed. Not only are the N-fixing bacteria alive; but, if you use a novel endophyte tall fescue variety, the endophyte has a limited storage time (around a year under good conditions) before it should be planted. Although the tall fescue seed will germinate after longer storage times, the endophyte fungus may no longer be alive. The fungus only lives in the plant and is not soil-borne.

Next time, I’ll cover some of the other management issues to consider, such as planting date.

The other articles in this series are:

Thinking of Renovating or Planting a New Pasture or Hay Field? Part 3: Pasture and Hay Planting Time Has Arrived

Thinking of Renovating or Planting a New Pasture or Hay Field? Part 2: Planning to Planting