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Optimize and maximize your pasture

Dennis Christie for Progressive Forage Published on 15 July 2020

A number of events are converging these days, resulting in constricted budgets for forage producers. Cattle markets are reflecting these occurrences while hay prices continue to be high. But as history has proven, the sun will continue to shine, and the grass will continue to grow – along with the weeds. Fortunately, weeds are something we can control.

Even during this time of uncertainty, there are a number of things you can do to improve your range and pasture forage production to optimize the return on investment (ROI) from your cattle and ensure you can produce the required quality and amount of forage needed instead of purchasing it. Here are some tips to help you leverage your range and pasture inputs to their fullest and lay the foundation for excellent forage in the future.

1. Define and prioritize goals

Tight budgets mean you need to get the most out of the input dollars you spend. It’s critical you choose the right range and pasture goals, then prioritize the things you really want to accomplish, which may include producing more quality forage or having the ability to better use acre resources.

For example, you may want to achieve general broadleaf weed control. Maybe it’s broadleaf weed control plus improved fertility. Perhaps you want to focus on areas you’re trying to bring back into production because brush or invasive grasses have overtaken those parts of your land. You might even have long-term perennial weeds in an area you want to reclaim. Define what you want to accomplish, then devote the necessary input resources to fixing the problem.

One thing that’s important to remember: Whatever you want to do, do it right the first time. That’s when you optimize your inputs to their fullest. It takes time to do something, have it not work properly, then have to reconstruct the process and devote even more time and money to additional inputs to do a second pass. Define whatever it is that’s limiting your production – be it weeds, nutrition or fertility – and go after it in an ordered way.

2. Be diligent about scouting

Chances are you get out to check your cattle every day or close to it. Keep an eye on your weeds as well. The types of weed species emerging and the optimal timing to eliminate them are what will make a difference in how you control them. If you have early-germinating weeds in your pasture, knock them down early in the season to have the most advantage. If they’re biennial or perennial species, you may need to wait until weeds are a bit bigger to have enough herbicidal contact to achieve optimal control. History also plays a role: The weeds you’ve controlled in the past will probably be the ones you control in the future, unless a different strategy is used.

3. Choose the right herbicide and the right application method

In many cases, you may be able to do a broadcast herbicide application on the entire pasture, then treat select spots that require more nuanced, targeted applications. Weeds are hard on existing vegetation that’s used for forage. Additionally, most weeds provide relatively poor nutritional value to grazing animals, and some species may even be detrimental. So there is a twofold value in employing a sound herbicide program: Eliminating competing weeds from your pasture enables available land to produce higher-yielding forage with greater nutritional value. Making this improvement can determine whether you need to purchase supplemental nutrition feed or additional hay. Growing your own forage and nutritional needs is the least-expensive way to feed your livestock. That’s where you can get more bang for your input buck.

It goes back to getting things done right the first time. As you know, pastures are typically rough and not always the friendliest places to be. You may not have multiple opportunities to get weeds under control. Know the particular type of weed you want to target so you feel good about eliminating it and also know what other weeds you should look out for.

Remember, apply your herbicides at the most effective rate. This might be a year where it’s a good idea to apply at the upper end of the rate range so you don’t have to worry about things later. Stick with on-label application rates. Consult your trusted advisor about how you can achieve long-term management of pasture resources by rotating herbicide modes of action, timing applications appropriately and using specialized treatments for problem areas.

Finally, be safe when handling any crop-protection product. If you’re applying your own products, always read and follow label directions. Ensure you have any personal protective equipment needed to handle products safely.

4. Enhance the ability of your applications to reach their targets

The leaf structure we find in range and pasture broadleaf weeds varies greatly. Leaves can be smooth and have a thick, waxy, slick cuticle. They also can have a lot of hairs. These characteristics are what have allowed those plants to adapt over millennia. If they’re mixed together in your pasture, you need to throw a good punch at them to achieve control. On a hairier leaf surface, herbicide droplets can land above the leaf cuticle, not be absorbed and evaporate. On a slick surface, droplets can hit and quickly slide off.

As a result, it’s important to include an adjuvant in your spray tank to keep herbicide droplets in the proper size range so they don’t drift, they land on the target weed and they get deep into the canopy where they can do the most good. A number of herbicides are phenoxy-based, so if they move off target, they can injure other nearby species you didn’t intend to target. There are different types of adjuvants, including nonionic surfactants, methylated seed oils, and drift and deposition agents. Talk with your local trusted advisor about which adjuvant is recommended.

5. Give your soil the nutrients it needs

Improved grass species such as bermudagrass will benefit the most from a fertilizer application to help keep grasses growing and the pasture thick. Improved grass species typically will result in greater production and, as a result, will deplete soils, making nutrient applications necessary. To determine what nutrients your range and pasture soils require, you need a picture of what’s going on.

Use a probe or shovel to collect representative soil samples across the area and have them tested to determine what nutrients you may be lacking. Whether it’s nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium or lime, optimizing soil nutrient levels will help you maintain or reach your intended production level.

A growing trend in the range and pasture market is to impregnate herbicides with fertilizer, which offers the two-fer of achieving weed control and getting nutrition into your pasture. Particularly if you’re doing a broadcast application of a herbicide across a large area, having the ability to include fertilizer in that pass makes things much more efficient. However, not all dealers or others who supply inputs offer this service, and not all products can be used in this way. Check with your local trusted advisor to find out more about this opportunity and to see if it’s an option in your area.

Control the variables you can this season. Ask your advisor how effective input management can ladder up to your broader management strategy and help you meet your range and pasture goals to enhance utilization of resources and help improve ROI potential.  end mark

Important: Before use, always read and follow label instructions. Crop performance is dependent on several factors, many of which are beyond the control of WinField United, including without limitation: soil type, pest pressures, agronomic practices and weather conditions. Growers are encouraged to consider data from multiple locations, over multiple years and be mindful of how such agronomic conditions could impact results.

Dennis Christie is an Agronomist at WinField United

3 ways to optimize ROI with input management

1. Actively scout for weed pressure: Know what weed species you have and control them when they’re the proper size.

2. Choose the right herbicide to fit your needs and apply the correct rate to do the job.

3. Keep herbicide applications on target by including an adjuvant in the spray tank.