End use important when planting forage stand

Producers must first decide what they will be using the crop for: grazing, silage, hay or part of a rotational plan

MONCTON, N.B. — Establishing a new forage crop the right way leads to more profitability.

Producers must decide if the crop will be used for grazing, silage, hay or part of a rotational plan, said forage agronomist Kathleen Glover of Agriculture Canada.

“These are all the decisions you need to make before you chose your forage species and you have to consider on-farm restrictions like soil conditions and environmental conditions,” she said at the annual Canadian Forage and Grassland Association conference held in Moncton Nov. 12-15.

The first step is strong seedling establishment and choosing the right cultivar for a given situation. Certified seed information is available on the attributes of each cultivar but that does not mean a new variety is going to be successful.

“If you want to see the benefits of improved genetics you have to have that stressor that caused the breeder to go after improvement in the first place,” she said.

“If you pick a variety that has disease tolerance and you don’t have a disease, are you going to see a benefit for that variety?” she said.

The basic elements of establishment start with seed quality. She recommends starting with certified seed that provides information on the label about germination rate and percentage of pure live seed.

Germination is not going to be 100 percent because there may be some debris in the seed. Proper storage is also important because seeds are alive and use oxygen.

Seeds need to stay cool and dry or viability and germination could be reduced. Ideally it should be stored at temperatures of 0-2 C, at less than 10 percent humidity.

If using seed from last season, producers should carry out a germination test.

Legume forage seeds need to be inoculated with a group of bacteria known as rhizobia. These infect the roots of legumes to form root nodules. They are also found in the soil and after infecting the roots, nodules form and fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, turning it into a more readily useful form of nitrogen. After forage seeds are established the nodules should be visible after four to six weeks of growth.

Rhizobia are alive and are subject to heat and dryness. If the seed is left on the soil surface they can dry out.

Glover recommends buying pre-inoculated seed or producers can inoculate on the day of seeding.

Seeding rates and depth are also important.

There should be good seed-to-soil contact so after seeding, the ground should be packed. If there is a lot of air around the seeds they will dry out. A footprint impression that sinks three millimetres means the soil was not packed enough.

If broadcast seeding is done, more packing is necessary because there is less control over seeding depth.

Before seeding, the producer needs to control the amount of plant vegetation on the surface. If there is too much vegetation, producers should use a herbicide or cut the vegetation because the seeds won’t grow if they land on the thatch.

Seeding rates vary so Glover recommends talking with local forage specialists.

Increasing the seeding rate will not compensate for poor seed-bed preparation and depth of planting.

Seeding depth depends on the soil type. Producers should aim to plant seeds about a half-inch deep in clay or loam but a bit deeper for sandy soil. If the seeds go in too deep, the stand won’t establish and the seed has been wasted.

Seeding dates depend on the region so check with local specialists, although she recommends planting as early as possible to establish a good seedbed.

Germination can occur at low as 5 C but it could be slow.

Alfalfa and cool season grasses are tolerant to cold temperatures and grasses can be seeded in the fall. Good tillering indicates they have established a good root and should survive winter.

Frost seeding can work but it must be done when the ground is frozen. It can be hit and miss, she said.

Post-seeding management means checking the plant stand. There should be 100 to 200 plants per sq. metre but growers are reminded that some grasses fill in more easily than others.

Glover is also running simple and complex mixtures research because these programs are becoming more common. Simple mixes have three species and complex types have four or more.

In her research, triple mixes may do better than the more complex mixtures but over time the more complex mixtures seem to produce more. They may take longer to establish but seem to produce more biomass and have longer- term persistence.

“You are hoping if you are a pasture manager that it is going to be around for a while,” she said.

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