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Cattle farmers turn to plant growth regulators

Jim Masilak Published on 01 January 2012

While cattle farmers have used nitrogen-based fertilizers for years to stimulate forage growth during summer months, more ranchers like Mickel Shepherd are exploring alternatives to extend their grazing seasons.

Given an opportunity to try a new product that promised to stimulate grass growth in the middle of winter, Shepherd, owner of Shepherd Farms in Coffeeville, Alabama, wasn’t particularly confident of success.

In fact, to say Shepherd was skeptical was an understatement.

Uncommon in the forage industry, plant growth regulators (PGRs) have been used for years in other agricultural markets, including the ornamental and turfgrass industries and in tree fruit, tree nuts, rice and cotton, just to name a few.

“The purpose of a plant growth regulator in the forage industry is to get cattle out of the barn, into pasture and to cut confinement costs for the cattle,” said Dr. Marvin Hall, professor of forage management at Penn State University.

University research shows that a new product, RyzUp SmartGrass Plant Growth Regulator, when used as part of an appropriate fertilizer program, results in better forage production under cool weather conditions than fertilizer alone.

RyzUp SmartGrass is the first – and thus far only – PGR to hit the forage market, and Shepherd doubted whether it would make any perceivable difference when he was first introduced to it.

“I really didn’t see how half of that little bitty bottle was going to do anything,” Shepherd said. “But it did. It made my grass shoot up. It really grew.”

Applying that “little bitty bottle” of PGR to his pastures during the winter of 2010 allowed Shepherd to better manage his cows and significantly reduce feed costs.

“I got them to rotate back into that field in two and a half weeks and they were able to graze it longer,” Shepherd said. “I’ve never had grass grow like that during the winter.”

RyzUp SmartGrass is a naturally occurring plant growth regulator that stimulates forage growth and increases dry matter production when growth becomes limited by cool temperatures.

It is most effective on perennial cool-season pastures when used in the late fall and early spring and during the winter months in southern areas on winter annuals such as annual ryegrass and cereal rye.

John Niezen of the Greenstone Grazing Group in Louisville, Georgia, performed some trials with RyzUp SmartGrass in the winter of 2010-2011 and said “the results were very impressive.”

As part of its trials, Greenstone made applications in December and January on about 1,100 acres of a mixed cereal rye and annual ryegrass pasture.

Niezen said there was visually “a lot more pasture growth” and that he noticed “a persistent treatment effect” for several weeks after application.

According to data taken in the Greenstone trials, paddocks treated with RyzUp SmartGrass in December resulted in 73 percent more dry matter per acre than untreated areas four weeks later.

This allowed paddocks that normally rotated on a 90-day schedule during winter months to be grazed in as few as 30 days following RyzUp SmartGrass application.

“Even after we grazed the treated paddocks, we could still see the growth response,” Niezen said. “It’s going to be an integral part of grazing down in Georgia. There’s no doubt about it.”

RyzUp SmartGrass has also produced positive results in perennial cool-season pastures. Applications of made in both the fall and during early spring greenup yielded an additional half-ton of forage material per acre in trials conducted by Dr. Richard Leep, a forage specialist and professor emeritus at Michigan State University.

“It speeds up the grazing period by a couple weeks in spring and extends it in the fall,” Dr. Leep said. “We know the longer you can keep your cattle out on pasture, the more profitable they’ll be, as pasture is the best and cheapest form of forage.”

For the fall season, Dr. Leep’s research suggests that the most fruitful application timing is mid-September through late October.

However, unlike traditional fall nitrogen applications, the concept of an early spring application with a plant growth regulator is just starting to catch on, Dr. Leep said.

“You need to see grass growing to get a good response, and we found that RyzUp SmartGrass enhanced that growth considerably,” Leep said. “We really got the best response when new growth was two to three inches tall and that really enhanced the quickness of the response.

“There was a good synergism with the nitrogen fertilizer and RyzUp SmartGrass together.”

Convincing cattle farmers to make an additional spring application will require a change in conventional thinking. But given the expected benefits, Dr. Leep said it might well be worth consideration.

“The spring application is new and allows them to get more pasture forage earlier than normal, which saves on confinement feed costs,” he said.

Chuck Crutcher, who raises cattle at Four Aces Farm near Rineyville, Kentucky, took part in a recent spring trial using RyzUp SmartGrass on alfalfa hay and on another hay field consisting of grass and clover.

“The forage in the treated areas really bumped up compared to the untreated side,” Crutcher said. “We had good results with RyzUp SmartGrass.”

Crutcher said RyzUp SmartGrass was “very easy to work with” and that even after application costs, “the application is very economical.”

The drought conditions that prevailed later this year could have caused some serious problems if not for the extra forage provided by the RyzUp SmartGrass application made earlier in the year.

“By getting that extra forage, we were able to make an earlier first cut,” Crutcher said. “Getting that extra cut of hay is the payoff. It’s going to pay me back real quick going into winter and having that hay.

“That’s going to replace what I don’t have in forage for the cows to graze on.”  FG

Jim Masilak is a senior account executive for archer>malmo public relations in Memphis, Tennessee.

PHOTO:
Top: The purpose of a plant growth regulator in the forage industry is to get cattle out of the barn, into pasture and to cut confinement costs for cattle. Photo courtesy of James Wargo, Valent U.S.A. Corporation

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