January 30, 2002 | By: Laura Skillman

Forages provide a great opportunity for Kentucky agriculture, but a good stand is essential to profitable production.

Attention to some basic principles is needed to establish grasses and legumes and have successful forage production, said Jimmy Henning, University of Kentucky Extension forage specialist.

Henning discussed these principles during the Forage symposium that kicked off the Kentucky Cattlemen's Association annual meeting.

One of the principles is choosing the appropriate species - one that works for a farmer's land, for their management and for the time they have to put into it.

"Time can be one of the most limiting factors," he said. "So when choosing a forage, you have to understand the pluses and minuses."

How the forage will be utilized can play a role in determining what species to grow. For example, if the area will be subjected to frequent, close grazing then white clover would be a better choice than red clover.

Address soil fertility, he said. Soil test before applying any fertilizer. Fertilizer recommendations without a soil test will, by necessity, be either too high or too low, possibly limiting establishment success.

"The fatal flaw is not giving it what it needs to grow," Henning said.

Another important factor is to get good seed-to-soil contact. This goal has three components: seed bed preparation, seed distribution and seed placement.

Seed bed preparation ranges from plowed, smooth beds, to sod suppression using herbicides, to disturbing the existing grass by overgrazing, dragging or excessive treading by cattle.

Seed can be spread by broadcasting it over a field or by drilling the seed into the soil with a planter or drill. To get a good stand, the seed must be placed in the top quarter to half inch of soil and it must be firmed around the seed.

Broadcasting requires an external force such as freezing and thawing to move seed into firm contact with the soil.

Farmers also need to know that cheaper is not better when it comes to variety choices, Henning said. Plant a variety that has been a proven performer in unbiased trials, he said. UK publishes several reports on yield and grazing tolerance of major forage species.

High quality seed will have high germination rates and be free from contamination from seeds of other crops or weeds. Look for this information on seed tags.

Plant at the appropriate dates for the species being established and at the appropriate rates.

"Those that sow sparingly, shall also reap sparingly," Henning said.

As the stand is getting established, it is important to control competition. Many seedings fail because of unsuccessful control of weed competition. Grazing newly seeded areas heavily before they are well established can also contribute to failure.

A fatal flaw in getting a good stand is trying to rush through it, he said.

"My father had a saying that was we never have time to do things right, but you've always got time to do things over."

Thanks to money coming into the state through the Tobacco Settlement, there are opportunities to make some radical changes on the farm, he said.

If a farmer is trying to change a field that has long been in one thing to something else, he or she needs to take the time to do it right. Doing it wrong will be costly, Henning said.


Jimmy Henning, (859) 257-3144