Summer Forage Seeding Options

Poor establishment of a spring forage seeding due to dry conditions.

Poor establishment of a spring forage seeding due to dry conditions.

Persistent dry weather has led to poor establishment of many new forage seeding throughout the region. Many farmers are wondering what to do with these failed or very poor stands?

The first step is to complete a thorough assessment of the field to see how much of the area did not establish.  If the stand looks like it is growing but just far behind where it should be at this point, the best measure may be to mow off the likely dense sward of weeds to allow the struggling forages to gain some sunlight. The recent moisture may push these forages along allowing them proper growth prior to the winter months.

It may be possible to just fill in poorly established spots with a no-till seeder in the late summer, preferably in late July or August so that forage seedlings have the six to eight weeks of growth needed to get established before a killing frost. Also, to reduce competition from the existing stand, mow the stand just previous to seeding. If soil conditions are extremely dry, this method may not be successful.

If you are in dire need of feed, it is not too late to seed a summer annual. The best choice in early to mid July would be a sudangrass or sorghum-sudangrass cross. These forages establish quickly in the heat and can produce ample forage even in dry conditions. If seeding later than July, consider planting a cool season annual such as oats, annual ryegrass, or triticale. Any of these choices will produce 1 to 2 tons of dry matter of high quality feed. Check out our warm and cool season forage reports at: http://www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/forages.

Sudangrass (with sunflower and sunn hemp).

Sudangrass (with sunflower and sunn hemp).

A final option is to consider replanting the forage seeding in the late summer. These late summer seedings generally occur in August so that they have plenty of time to establish prior to fall dormancy. A rule of thumb is to plant 6 to 8 weeks before your average date of a killing frost. Seeding rates and seeding depth (1/4 to 1/2 depth) should remain the same for late summer seedings. Weed control is generally not an issue this time of the year so a nurse crop is not recommended and only competes with the new seeding for moisture, nutrients, and space. Avoid Italian or annual ryegrass in your mixtures as these grasses tend to grow rapidly in the fall and can be very competitive with other forage species.

Soil is warmer this time of the year so with adequate moisture the crop will develop and canopy at a much faster rate. Forage yields of late summer seedings during the first production year are often comparable to mature forage stands! Remember ample moisture needs to be present to get these shallow seeded crops off and running. If we go into August extremely dry, it is best to wait until there is some adequate rain.

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