Proper seeding with quality seeds sets up a forage stand for the long term.
It is a good idea to use certified seed for better results, said agronomist Earl Creech of Utah State University.
Certified seed provides assurances of good quality seed with genetic purity, no weeds and highly viable, he said at the recent Canadian Forage and Grasslands Association conference held in Calgary.
Common seed may be cheaper but it could introduce a weed problem that lasts for decades. A small level of contamination of weeds in a bag of seeds can cause a lot of damage.
“It is really important to plant the best quality seed that you can,” he said.
Proper seed placement is the second step to achieve a good forage stand. Avoid planting into fluffy soil because seeds cannot absorb sufficient water to germinate.
“Forage seeds need to actually double their weight in water before they start to germinate so you need good soil-to-seed contact,” he said.
Roots do not anchor well or absorb adequate moisture and the plants die.
He advises following the rule of the boot.
“The way you can tell if your field is good to stick seed in the ground is by taking your boot and stepping on the area you have worked. You will leave an imprint with the heel and sole. You do not want to leave an impression with the arch of the boot,” he said.
When in doubt, firmer is better to ensure seed-to-soil contact.
Appropriate seeding rates are important. Adjust rates based on moisture, soil texture, temperature, time of year and past experience.
In dryland regions, producers can back off on seeding rates and establish a lower population because there may not be enough moisture to support more plant growth.
Plant depth is driven by the size of the seed. Depth should be the equivalent of 2.5 to five times the width of the seed. Bigger seeds go deeper but small forage seeds may not have the energy to properly emerge if planted too deep.
“Most failure comes from planting too deep,” he said.
“You cannot recover from going too deep.”
Seeding rates need to be monitored because seed is expensive.
Traditional seeding rates have changed because of improved seeding equipment, better seed technologies with coatings and treatments, and improved genetics that offer better emergence and vigour.
Producers may plant more to get better yields in the first year but over time it does not make much difference in stand density.
Research has shown more plants emerged in the first year, but by year five the fields ended up with 10 plants per sq. foot, which is achievable with a six pound seeding rate.
Next, control weeds in seedling crops to protect the yield for years to come.
“As long as you did something to control weeds in the seeding year, you have protected your yield for the rest of your stand,” he said.
“It will never yield as good as it could have if you had controlled weeds when it was little baby plants,” he said.
His final advice is to follow the rule of the hat to see if seeding was successful at a projected 20 to 25 seedlings per sq. foot. One seedling every inch is the goal for a perennial forage.
Toss a baseball hat at random intervals in a field and then count the seedlings under the hat.
“We would hope to have 10 to 12 seedlings under a ball cap,” he said.