Taking the management of forage stands to the next level

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By Sarah Sommerfeld, PAg, Regional Forage Specialist

Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture

Management of forage stands can often be minimal for a number of reasons. When a decrease in forage production is noticed, a management change is needed. The benefits of implementing good agronomic practices on forage stands can be seen through maintaining forage yields, stand longevity, and improved forage quality.

Like all other crops, forages require nutrients. The nutrients needed depend on the use of the stand and type of forage grown. For every ton of alfalfa hay that is harvested about 58 pounds of nitrogen, 14 pounds of phosphorus, 60 pounds of potassium and six pounds of sulphur are removed. For every ton of grass hay that is harvested about 32 pounds of nitrogen, six pounds of phosphorus, 50 pounds of potassium and six pounds of sulphur are removed. With the exception of the nitrogen component for the alfalfa, which is supplied by symbiotic fixation, all other nutrients for either forage type are supplied by the soil. If these nutrients are not being replaced, through either commercial fertilizer or manure, forage stand productivity will be greatly impacted.

Scouting for insects is often not thought of as a necessary management practice for hay production. However, alfalfa weevils are becoming a pest of increasing concern for forage producers. Mature alfalfa weevil larva feed on the developing buds and leaves of alfalfa plants. Feeding damage stunts plant growth and can result in fields not flowering.  Feeding damage can also indicate a significant loss in forage yield. Peak feeding activity usually occurs from mid-June to mid-July.

To determine if the alfalfa weevil is affecting your forage stands, field scouting is necessary. Field scouting should begin in early June. Fields with a high percentage of alfalfa or pure alfalfa stands will be impacted the most.

Harvesting good quality forage crops is a challenge faced by producers every growing season. Variability of hay quality can be high, even under optimal conditions. Plant maturity at the time of cutting is the single largest factor in determining forage quality. Moisture conditions and nutrient status of the soil can affect the protein and mineral content of the forage.

Feed testing can help producers decide if forage resources available on farm will meet requirements of the cow herd. Understanding the nutritional requirements of the cow herd, the limitations of the feed supply on hand and knowing how to adjust or supplement a ration are critical elements for maintaining a cow herd through the winter feeding season.

More information related to all these topics mentioned above, and others, will be discussed at an upcoming event in Saskatoon on January 30. “The Cutting Edge in Forage Management: Taking it to the next level” is a forage management seminar open to all producers and industry representatives who are interested in improving their knowledge of forage management. Other topics to be discussed that day include non-bloat forage legumes, fungicides use on annual forage crops, and greenfeed harvest timing.

For more information on The Cutting Edge in Forage Management seminar, contact Sarah Sommerfeld, Regional Forage Specialist, at 306-867-5559. To register for the event, contact the Saskatchewan Forage Council at 306-969-2666. For more information on forage fertility, alfalfa weevil or forage quality, contact your local Regional Forage Specialist or the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.

Organizations: Saskatchewan Forage Council, Agriculture Knowledge Centre, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture

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