By Sarah Sommerfeld, PAg, Regional Forage Specialist
Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
If you are planning to seed a new forage stand this spring, there are questions to consider before putting any seeds into the ground.
1. Are there any weed issues present in the area to be seeded?
Identifying and controlling any weed issues prior to forage establishment is crucial. Close attention should be given to perennial weeds. Perennial weeds are very competitive with forages during establishment and can significantly reduce future forage yields. Control of perennial weeds can be difficult and expensive once the forage stand is established, so make the effort to control them prior to seeding. Be mindful of the re-cropping restrictions that follow with herbicide use for perennial weed control. Herbicides with the active ingredients of picloram, metsulfuron methyl or aminopyralid, all have long term re-cropping restrictions. There are also limited in-crop herbicide options available for use on forages, especially legume/grass mixed stands.
2. What are the soil conditions of the area to be seeded?
Knowing the type of soil and growing conditions of the area will aid in selecting the most suitable forage species. Forage species are not equal in their capability to tolerate conditions such as drought, flooding or salinity. Taking the time to look into which forage species are suitable for specific soil conditions will be worth the effort. A producer should also consider submitting a soil sample for nutrient analysis. Soil test results help determine the fertilizer requirements for the new forage crop and indicate any nutrient deficiencies that may limit forage production. It is important to remember that grasses will benefit the most from nitrogen, while legumes will benefit from phosphorus, potassium and sulphur applications. A balanced approach to soil fertility is important. If any one nutrient is lacking, production will be affected and the response to applying other nutrients will be reduced.
3. What is the intended use for this forage stand?
Identifying the end use of the forage stand will help to select forage species suited for the intended purpose. Most forage stands are grown for hay, pasture or a dual role. When harvested as a hay crop, the forage stand may include a large proportion of alfalfa or grasses that have a higher yield potential and a slower rate of regrowth. If the forage stand is to be used for grazing, the stand may include grasses that have excellent regrowth qualities with a very low proportion of alfalfa or no alfalfa at all. Alternatively, non-bloat legumes, such as sainfoin and cicer milkvetch, may be considered for use in a grazing system. Non-bloat legumes can be used in mixtures with alfalfa and/or grasses to improve the forage yield, quality and to reduce the risk of bloat.
4. How long do you intend to keep this forage stand in production?
Forage species differ in stand persistence. Choosing forages that meet the goals of the crop rotation is important. A short duration forage stand integrated into an annual crop rotation will contain different forage species than a long lived forage stand intended for ground cover, reclamation or restoration.
Decide on the forage species to include in a mixture based on your answers to the above questions. Forage seed companies offer a wide range of pre-mixed forage seed options, but will also prepare custom blended forage mixtures to meet specific producer goals. For more information on forage selection and establishment considerations, contact the Regional Forage Specialist at 306-867-5559 or the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.