Q: What are the top factors for successful forage establishment?
A: To grow a productive forage crop, consider important factors like soil, weeds, previous crop and herbicide residues. Identify and consider the impact of soil factors like flooding, drainage, low pH (acidity), texture and salinity that may impede establishment, productivity or species/variety selection. Control winter annual, biennial and perennial weeds like Canada thistle, quackgrass, white cockle and scentless chamomile in the two years prior to planting. Pre-harvest glyphosate applications are useful. Manage excess trash as it can cause challenges with establishment. And ensure no residual herbicides have been applied in the year(s) prior to planting a forage crop.
Seeding time, depth and rate are also important. Seeding late April to early May into excellent moisture and with cool temperatures is good for establishment but there is limited opportunity for pre-seeding weed control and a frost hazard. If you wait a bit longer, mid-May to mid-June, you have an opportunity for pre-seeding weed control. Another option for grasses is timely fall dormant seeding. Seeds germinate the following spring when moisture is good and temperatures are cool but frost damage may occur.
When it comes to seeding depth, forage seed is generally tiny and thus has little food reserves needed to generate emergence. Forages should be seeded no deeper than a half inch to three quarter inch deep into a firm seedbed (your footprint should not sink more than 3/8 of an inch). Packing is necessary for good seed to soil contact. Broadcast seed should be incorporated shallowly and packed accordingly.
For alfalfa and master blends seeding rates, aim for 10 lbs/ac in direct seeded situations and 15 lb/ac if the forage seed is broadcast and incorporated.
And don’t forget to consider the end use. Is the forage crop intended for pasture or hay or both? Is the crop intended for dairy, beef, horses or other livestock?
These are just a few factors to consider.
Nathan Trowell is a manager of agronomic services with Crop Production Services in eastern Saskatchewan.