Photo credit: Dennis Hancock, UGA

Overseeding annual crops into perennial pastures can be a helpful practice that extends the grazing season and improves the overall quality of forage. There are different methods and uses of overseeding, so take into consideration the various options before heading to the field.

James Locke, a soils and crops consultant for the Noble Research Institute, explains in a recent Noble News and Views article some actions to consider before overseeding your pastures.

The most common goals in overseeding are to extend the grazing season with crops that have different productive seasons to the current perennials and to improve forage growth with added nitrogen from the annual legume plants. In addition to these goals, Locke notes overseeding can be used for a variety of things, including raising soil organic matter for enhanced water holding capacity and boosting overall forage quality.

Understanding the current perennials in a pasture is a must when selecting which annual species to plant.

“While we want to reap the benefits of an overseeded crop, we don’t want to damage the primary crop,” Locke explains. He offers the example of planting ryegrass with bermudagrass: “If the ryegrass is not grazed or hayed off, it can severely compete with, or even smother out, the bermudagrass.”

Planting options

When establishing any seeded crop, the two key variables are seed-to-soil contact and the depth at which the seed is placed. These variables play a big role in the level and speed of development of the stand. The different methods of planting into perennial pastures each have their own pros and cons.

“The only way to ensure any consistency in planting depth or seed-to-soil contact is to use a properly calibrated planter, usually a no-till drill, for seeding into a perennial sod,” Locke explains. This method, however, requires the perennial crops be well managed.

Another planting option is to broadcast the seed and allow livestock to trample it into the ground. This option works best with annual species that are well adapted to shallow planting. “While it can be successful, this option offers the least control over planting depth and soil contact,” Locke notes.

Planting green is another option for overseeding annuals into perennial pastures. In green planting, the annual seed is planted without manipulating the perennial forage. This method can be successful, but the production of the overseeded plant is delayed and reduced.

Locke advises to take the time to understand the differences in overseeding methods. He concludes, “The more you consider the why, what, and how for your operation, the higher your odds of success.

Michaela King

Michaela King is serving as the 2019 Hay & Forage Grower summer editorial intern. She currently attends the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and is majoring in professional journalism and photography. King grew up on a beef farm in Big Bend, Wis., where her 4-H experiences included showing both beef and dairy cattle.