This fall is a good time to give forage fields and pastures some tender loving care following a difficult growing sea-son.
"This was one of the more stressful seasons for forages," says Keith Johnson, Purdue University extension forage specialist.
In Indiana, a cool, wet spring and early summer produced good hay yields but prevented timely harvesting. And grazing cattle did extensive hoof damage to pastures. Then dry weather set in, and fields and pastures went downhill. Potato leafhoppers and alfalfa weevils further damaged the slow-growing crop.
To revive forage crops and guard pastures from future stresses, Johnson outlines this rehabilitation plan:
1) Assess your forage stands. Scout pastures and identify the plants that are present.
2) Address soil fertility problems. "If we have low phosphorus, potassium or pH concerns – those are the things that we have some control over to alleviate stresses or inefficiencies or weak stands," says Johnson. "We need to be soil testing, if we haven’t done so, and follow through with appropriate amendments of fertilizer and limestone."
3) Reseed to strengthen weak pasture stands. Johnson says a pasture should consist of a productive cool-season grass plus a legume that’s well-adapted to the site. The legume should comprise roughly 30% of the stand, which is roughly two plants per square foot. "A productive pasture’s going to have 90% or greater cover of land surface, so there should not be a lot of bare soil," he says.
4) Control winter annual weeds in alfalfa fields. The herbicide should be applied after the alfalfa is dormant or before it breaks dormancy in spring.
5) Consider rotational grazing. Continuous grazing prevents forages from recuperating, which slows productivity.
"We need to think about incorporating some form of rotation system to provide rest," says Johnson. "In terms of getting the program off and going, that ought to be thought about in fall and winter, and begin implementation by breaking the pasture into paddocks at the first opportunity as time permits in the late winter and springtime."