Troy Platt knows a thing or two about growing high-quality legume baleage. Platt, who farms with his dad, Harold, near Greenville, FL, has topped that category in the Southeast Hay Contest the past four years.

With encouragement from a former county agent, he entered the competition for the first time in 2006, submitting a sample of rhizoma perennial peanut baleage. In 2009, his sample tested 17% protein and 69% TDN with a 163 relative forage quality score and less than 100 ppm nitrate.

“It's a good way to get your hay analyzed and to learn what you have,” says Platt. “Plus, it's fun.”

The Platts make 700-lb bales of 50%-moisture baleage from two cuttings per year. They take a mid-July first cutting when the crop is 1' tall; second cutting is taken the first week in October. Cutting it at the right time and height is the key to winning the contest and making feed their 400 beef cattle thrive on, says Platt.

“When perennial peanut's ready to cut, you cut it. If it gets to 14” tall, it starts shading the bottom leaves. If I put up sorry hay, it's going to cost me more down the road in supplements for the cattle.”

After the second cutting, they let it rest a bit and turn cattle into it. “It's not enough growth to bale again, but they can graze it — that helps us utilize the crop a little bit more.”

The baleage supplements their nearly year-round grazing program. Other forages grown include alfalfa, bahiagrass, bermudagrass, cowpeas, clover, millet, oats, sorghum-sudan and ryegrass. The farm's perennial peanut stands were already established when the Platts moved there from Melbourne, FL.

“When we first got here, we were only getting one good cutting and a second smaller one,” he recalls. “Now we're consistently getting two good ones a year that average around 5 tons/acre.”

The Platts use no commercial fertilizer. Two gallons/acre of an organic fertilizer made from North Atlantic fish are applied about every 21 days during the growing season.