By ED LENTZ
The abnormally wet April has made it difficult for farmers to start field activities. One of these activities is planting spring forages.
New seedings are a result of planned replacement of old forage stands, or from the loss of a field from the difficult winter.
Both of these situations are occurring in our area this year.
Forages are often more challenging to plant than corn or soybeans because of their small seed. However, a good forage producer will follow research-based practices to improve the success of new plantings.
Dr. Mark Sulc, Ohio State University Extension forage specialist, recommends the following to improve the success of spring forages:
• Add lime, potassium, and phosphorus based on a recent soil analysis. For most forages, a soil pH above 6.0 will be adequate, however, soil pH should be between 6.5 and 6.8 for alfalfa. For alfalfa, if the soil pH is below 6.5, lime now and seed in the fall.
Soil phosphorus levels should be at least 15 ppm for grasses and 25 for legumes. Soil potassium levels should be 75 ppm plus 2.5 times the soil cation exchange capacity (CEC).
• Plant high quality seed of a known variety adapted to the area. Planting “common” seed (variety not stated) often is a very poor investment — yielding less and having shorter stand life.
• Plant as soon as a good seedbed can be prepared, preferably no later than early May. Timely planting will allow seedlings to better compete against weeds and develop a strong root system before the summer heat and dry weather.
• Plant seeds in a well-prepared seedbed. The ideal seedbed for conventional seedings is smooth, firm, and weed-free. Do not overwork the soil. Too much tillage depletes moisture and may increase the risk of surface crusting.
Firm the seedbed before seeding to ensure good seed-soil contact and reduce the rate of drying in the seed zone. Cultipackers and cultimulchers are excellent implements for firming the soil.
It is best to use a no-till drill if residue on the surface is more than 35%. No-till planting is the preferred method on fields that are prone to soil erosion.
No-till seedings are most successful on silt loam soils with good drainage and are more difficult on clay soils or poorly drained soils.
• Calibrate forage seeders. Seed flow can vary among varieties, depending on the fungicides, insecticides and nitrogen-fixing inoculants added to the seed. A video on calibrating seeders may be found at https://forages.osu.edu/video/
• To ensure good seed to soil contact and seedling emergence, plant seeds between one-quarter and one-half-inch depth. Check seed depth at the beginning of planting, which is especially important with no-till drills. If the depth is right, some seed may be observed on the soil surface.
• When seeding into worked ground, drills with press wheels are the best choice. When seeding without press wheels or when broadcasting seed, cultipack before and after dropping the seed, preferably in the same direction as the seeder.
• Most fields do not need a companion crop. A companion crop is planting another species that will not compete with the main crop, but will assist the establishment of the primary crop during early development by protecting it from pests, soil surface crusting and soil erosion.
Oats is a common companion crop for alfalfa and red clover.
For fields with low erosion potential, direct seedings without a companion crop allows harvesting two or three crops of high-quality forage in the seeding year, particularly when seeding alfalfa and red clover.
For conventional seedings on erosion-prone fields, a small grain companion crop can reduce the erosion hazard and will also help compete with weeds.
Companion crops usually increase total forage tonnage in the seeding year, but forage quality will be lower than direct-seeded legumes.
Take the following precautions to avoid excessive competition from the companion crop: Use early-maturing small grain varieties; plant companion small grains at 1.5 to 2 bushels per acre; remove companion crop as early pasture or silage; do not apply nitrogen to the companion crop.
• During the first six to eight weeks, check new seedings weekly for any developing weed or insect problems. Weed competition during the first six weeks is most damaging to stand establishment. Potato leafhopper damage on legumes in particular can be a concern beginning in late May to early June.
• The first harvest of the new seeding should generally be delayed until early flowering of legumes, unless weeds become a problem early and threaten to smother the stand. For pure grass seedings, generally harvest after 70 days from planting, unless weeds become a problem.
Spring forages should be planted at this time. However, fields will have to dry first. By the time fields dry, a farmer may put the priority on planting corn or soybeans, and wait until fall to plant perennial forages, or if forage is needed sooner, plant a summer annual forage in June.
Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for the Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.