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Forage crop and pasture management issues and answers

Solutions for Pastures and Forage Crops

When growing a field for forage or pasture use, sometimes problems arise that can harm plants and negatively affect your return on investment. Weeds can pose a threat to the substance of the field, while overgrazing can damage grass stands’ strength. In addition, weather can force certain grasses to shut down.

David Jessee and Ken Sechler, both agronomists with Southern States, discuss the biggest forage crop issues they typically see and share their pasture management tips and advice.

Weed control

Weeds in pastures or forage fields can cause big problems. If not handled the right way, they can displace a productive plant and inhibit grazing and harvesting, leading to a loss of efficiency for both animals and field equipment.

Identifying weeds and their stage of growth is key to keeping them under control, says Jessee. "Depending on whether the weed is an annual, biennial, or perennial, the timing of the spray determines its effectiveness." For the best results, spray at the following times of the weed's life cycle:

  1. Biennial: Spray early, in the rosette or vegetative stage.
  2. Annual: Spray as early as you can.
  3. Perennial: Spray when the weed blooms, buds or fruits.

We recommend scouting for weeds in early spring. "Additional weed control into late fall has proven beneficial as well," says Sechler.

Overgrazing and under grazing

Pastures can suffer both from being grazed too much or from not being grazed enough. Overgrazing usually occurs in summer: While grass growth slows down in hot weather, animals' appetites do not. An overgrazed pasture has stands less than 3 inches tall. Continual grazing on fields less than 3 inches tall compromises the longevity of the stand.

Rotational grazing can help avoid overgrazing. Growers will fence off parts of the field, watering and letting the unused side rest and regrow. "To prevent overgrazing, move the animals weekly around the field," says Jessee. "For already overgrazed fields, let the field rest for 3 to 4 weeks so that it can fully recover."

In spring, grass has a growth spurt that many animals cannot keep up with. Fields grow too fast and long for the animals to feed on, resulting in under grazed land.

Rotational grazing can help with under grazing as well. "Depending on the acreage, many growers have the option to fence off one side of the field and make hay out of pasture grass," explains Sechler. Depending on your management program, haying part of the field during the fertile spring months can salvage your entire crop.

Summer shut down

In the hot summer months, especially in the South, grass growth slows. Some cool season grasses will even completely shut down when temperatures rise. When this happens, growers can salvage a field by planting a supplemental forage crop.

Certain forage crops thrive in summer heat, so many growers will plant them in the middle of summer to help spur growth. "Sorghum-sudan and millet will simply grow in the place of cool season grasses," explains Sechler. "They don't replace the grasses; they are just productive when the others go into a summer slumber." Planting these forage crops can help give suffering fields a boost until cooler fall temperatures arrive.

Employing a few management practices on your pastures and forage fields can make all the difference. For additional information on this topic, consult your local agronomist or Southern States professional.

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