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Getting a Forage Stand in the Ground

By Nadia Mori PAg, Regional Forage Specialist, Watrous

Spring is generally the best time to seed forages. After selecting a suitable forage seed blend, there often remain a number of questions on how to get the seed in the ground and off to a good start.

Choose a seeder that controls seeding depth as well as accurately and consistently meters small amounts of chaffy seed. Double disc press, hoe drills, broadcast applicators and air seeders and drills can all work to varying degrees for forage seeding. Seed shallow at 0.25 to 0.5 inches; Seeding too deep is a common cause for forage crop failures.

Seed bridging can be avoided by having a seed agitator in the seed box or mixing the seed with a carrier such as a cereal or fertilizer (the ratio can vary from 1:1 to 1:3). If using fertilizer, choose a phosphate fertilizer (such as 11-52-0). A maximum of 15 lbs of actual phosphorus can safely be seed placed. Avoid using fertilizer when seeding legumes, as it can dry out and kill the bacteria inoculant. During seeding, put only small amounts of seed in the tank to reduce bridging and keep the seed from settling.

Testing and calibrating of seeding equipment is best done ahead of seeding when time is less limited compared to seeding time. Calibration can take some trial and error because forage seed mixtures are not usually uniform. Collecting the seed over a tarp helps with weighing and measuring seed output.

The recommended seeding rate for forages is 20 to 25 seeds per square foot in the dark brown soil zone, and 25 to 30 seeds per square foot in the black soil zone with row spacings of 12 to 14 inches in both. If using a 12 inch row spacing, the number of seeds per linear foot is the same as the number of seeds per square foot.

Ensure the seedbed is firm, fine and free of herbicide residues from previous years and the seeding year. Some broadleaf herbicides can affect grass and/or legume establishment. Refer to the Guide to Crop protection for possible re-cropping restrictions.

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