By: Sarah Sommerfeld, PAg, Regional Forage Specialist
If you have decided to seed forages this spring, there are several considerations before seed is put into the ground. Forage stands are a long term investment and seeding forages is expensive. Taking the time to consider field limitations, end use and seed quality before purchasing and planting the forage seed is good management.
First, consider what the forage will be used for. Will the stand be cut for hay or grazed? Some forage species are better adapted for hay and others are better for grazing. If the forage will be grazed, what time of year will grazing take place? Not all forage species are created equal in their adaptation to different management choices. 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 slower rate of regrowth. Tap-rooted alfalfa varieties provide greater hay yields. If the stand is used for grazing, it may include grasses with excellent regrowth potential and a low proportion of alfalfa. Non-bloat legumes, such as sainfoin or cicer milkvetch may also be used. Non-bloat legumes can be used in mixtures with alfalfa and/or grasses to improve forage yield, quality and reduce risk of pasture bloat.
Second, consider your seeding site. What type of soil are you seeding into? How moist or dry is your average climate, which is usually indicated by your soil zone? What is the soil texture of the seeding site; sand, clay or something in between? Is your site affected by salinity, or periodic flooding? Forage species are not equal in their capability to tolerate conditions such as drought, flooding or salinity. For example, tall wheatgrass, slender wheatgrass, and western wheatgrass all have good salinity tolerance. However, if using bunch type grass species to manage salinity, consider seeding a forage mixture that includes at least one creeping-rooted, saline tolerant grass. Including creeping-rooted forage species in the mixture will increase ground cover, reduce surface evaporation and reduce salt deposits at the soil surface.
What is the condition of your seeding site? Is your site relatively free of perennial weeds? Seedling forage plants are not competitive against weed pressure. It is very hard to control weeds in seedling forage stands with herbicides. If the site is not clean, then delaying seeding for a year to control weeds may be a good idea.
Forage seed quality is also important. If possible, using certified seed is recommended. Certified seed ensures that the variety is a registered with known yield, insect and disease resistance traits, winter hardiness and forage quality characteristics. Certified seed will have a high germination percentage.
Purchasing forage seed can be expensive. The seed cost is often the single largest expense of establishing a new forage stand. However most forage stands remain in production for 10 or more years. If you amortize this seed cost over the life of the forage stand then this seed cost is not expensive. Purchasing quality forage seed is worth the investment.
For more information or for help reviewing your forage seed selection options, contact your local Regional Forage Specialist or the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.