Keys to Establishing Summer Forages
This article originally appeared in the May 2012 Ag News and Views newsletter.
The window of opportunity to plant summer annual forages is at hand while it is closing for most perennial warm-season forages. It is recommended that perennials be planted by mid-May. However, there may still be time to establish perennial forages if moisture is good and the forecast remains promising for the next 30 to 60 days. Before planting, review these keys to successful establishment of summer annual forages and some selected perennials.
- Have soil samples analyzed on fields that are to be established as summer pasture or refer to recent (within 12 months) soil test results of each field.
- Determine the forage crop to be established and note soil type suitability, pH and unique nutrient requirements.
- Calculate the cost of establishment and proceed only if cost-effective.
- Locate seed sources and an appropriate quantity of seed for establishment.
- If no-till planting, chemically remove existing vegetation.
- If planting using conventional till methods, initiate field preparations. Plow or disk to a depth of about 4 inches. Cultivate until the field is free of clods.
- Except for nitrogen, apply soil amendments as needed during soil preparations and prior to planting.
- If conventional till planting, culti-pack (firm and pulverize with a roller) the field to create a smooth, firm, fine seedbed.
- Calibrate drill (or broadcast planter).
- Plant forage seed at proper rate and depth.
- Fertilize with nitrogen upon emergence of stand (except legumes). Inoculate legume seed with proper Rhizobium species.
- Control weeds, as required, with appropriate herbicide after forages reach the four- to five-leaf stage.
Most of the summer forages that are recommended for planting this time of year are introduced forages, meaning they were developed to be most productive with high rates of nitrogen. Reiterating point 3 above: be sure to calculate the cost of establishment and production prior to committing to planting operations. If soil amendments other than nitrogen are required to assure success of the stand, the cost-to-benefit ratio may prohibit establishment. In addition, only plant the number of acres that you can afford to manage well. It rarely pays to cut corners when establishing a forage stand. Stand establishment is risky enough, due to weather, without compounding the issue with poor management decisions. It is better to plant fewer acres properly than to plant more acres and skip steps just to reduce the per-acre cost.
One of the frequently asked questions this time of year is "what forage type is recommended for my soils?" Assuming that soil fertility and pH are not prohibitive for establishment, the included chart indicates forages, soil type, seeding rate and depth, pH range, and optimal planting date for a few selected summer perennial and annual forages.
For more information about the Noble Research Institute variety tests and production by fertilizer rate trials for warm-season forages, see the following publications: