The less than ideal fall weather led to a poor growing season for fall and winter pastures in some parts of the U.S. That was the case in Arkansas where it was hot and dry in September, and subsequent rains came too late in the growing season to promote growth. That left producers in a forage deficit situation.

John Jennings, extension forage specialist at the University of Arkansas, offers several options to produce good-quality spring forage for the spring of 2020.

First, clean up your fields before planting to get the most out of the spring-planted forage. For existing bermudagrass, spray in February with glyphosate to kill any weeds that will compete with the intended spring-seeded crop. Also, spray winter annual weeds to promote earlier bermudagrass field growth where there is not a winter annual forage crop being planted. Heavy winter weeds delay bermudagrass growth by three to four weeks.

Jennings suggests winter oats, spring oats, or annual ryegrass as reliable options for spring pasture, baleage, and hay. “Wheat, cereal rye, and triticale have a higher requirement for vernalization than oats or ryegrass and may not produce much upright forage,” he explains. “Vernalization is the cold temperature requirement needed for the plant to produce a seed stem. If that requirement is not met, the forage yield is very low.”

If planting ryegrass, choose one that is cold-hardy and plant it in late February to late March. To promote forage growth, Jennings suggests applying 75 to 100 pounds of nitrogen (N) per acre at the time of planting and seed at 25 pounds per acre. The specialist notes both spring oats and winter oats can be used and produce similar yields. Plant oats at 100 pounds per acre. He also notes that mixing the two crops is an alternative option.

The primary growth period for oats and ryegrass is later than fall-planted forages. “Our tests have shown that the harvest period for fall-planted winter annuals is in April, but it’s about five weeks later in mid- to late May when these forages are spring-planted,” Jennings notes.

A good option for providing spring grazing is to plant forage brassicas such as forage turnips, forage rape, or hybrids of the two species. Plant these forages at 5 pounds per acre when planted alone and 2 pounds per acre when mixed with ryegrass or oats. Jennings suggests applying 75 to 100 pounds of N per acre along with phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) if needed.

The specialist also recommends that producers promote the growth of volunteer ryegrass; it produces substantial spring pasture even with limited growth in the fall. Ensure early grazing by applying 50 to 60 pounds of N per acre by mid-February. Again, also apply P and K based on soil test recommendations. April is the primary month for ryegrass growth, but it will grow well into May.

Finally, Jennings emphasizes the need to plan ahead by having your seed purchased and getting your planting equipment ready for the field.

Michaela King

Michaela King served 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.