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Management concepts for fall forage

Published on 16 September 2009

Forage management strategies are as varied as the farmers who grow the forages.

“Despite differing management plans, there are a few key concepts to remember with the advent of fall,” says a University of Missouri Extension agronomy specialist.

Travis Harper provides these management tips to put into practice now:

• Tall fescue is great for stockpiling.
Fescue is more resistant to low temperatures than orchardgrass, brome and timothy. This makes fescue an ideal candidate for deferred grazing, or stockpiling. Grazing stockpiled fescue in the winter is always cheaper than feeding hay. Tall fescue is highly responsive to nitrogen. Applying 40 to 80 pounds per acre will maximize production for fall and winter grazing. Strip grazing results in the greatest use of this stockpiled forage.

• Legumes need rest.
With the rising costs of nitrogen fertilizer, many forage producers have turned to legumes as a source of nitrogen for their pastures. Legumes also improve overall forage quality and can increase total forage yield. Removing cattle from the field gives legumes the opportunity to rest and build up root reserves going into winter, resulting in a higher-quality stand the following spring. Many legumes, such as annual lespedeza, must be allowed to rest and produce seed if they are going to persist beyond the first year.

• Forages need fertilizer.
Adequate soil fertility is essential to the quality and persistence of forages. Fall is a great time to take soil samples to your local extension office and then apply the recommended rates of lime, phosphorus and potassium.

• Thistles need to be controlled.
Many producers mow their pastures throughout the summer in an attempt to prevent seed heads from forming. Even if pastures are mowed every week, some thistles will still bloom and seeds will be scattered throughout the pasture. Farmers then return to problem fields in early fall and spray thistle rosettes with a labeled herbicide.

“Despite these tactics, even the best-managed forage fields will decline over time,” Harper said. “Once the desired forage makes up less than 50 percent of a field, it is time to consider a complete pasture renovation.” MU Extension specialists recommend the spray-smother-spray method, especially when trying to eliminate endophyte-infected tall fescue that may have crept into a pasture. Spray-smother-spray involves spraying the entire pasture with glyphosate, planting a winter annual grain crop such as wheat and then spraying the cover crop with glyphosate and seeding a new forage in the spring.

“Research has shown this method to be cost-effective, but it is still best to delay pasture renovation as long as possible,” Harper said.  FG

—Excerpts from University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources news website.

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