Farmers looking to renovate forage stands may need to wait until later in the spring and consider no-till drilling
By Jackie Clark
With fast-arriving spring weather in most parts of southern Ontario, farmers planning on frost seeding forages may need to alter some of their plans.
“It is still only March, but looking at the way the forecast is, we’re probably past (the frost seeding window) in most of the agricultural regions in the southern and eastern parts of the province,” Christine O’Reilly told Farms.com. She’s the forage and grazing specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Many growers reached out to O’Reilly with questions about frost seeding during a two-week window earlier in the month.
At that time, “the ground would thaw during the day, but it would harden up and freeze at night. So that’s kind of the ideal conditions for frost seeding,” she explained. “We need a time where the ground is hard enough to carry equipment, whether that’s an ATV or a tractor, but then we also need it to thaw to get that seed-to-soil contact, to help work that seed into the ground a little bit.”
Most forage growers find success frost seeding legumes because of their smaller seed size, however many are also curious about grasses, she added.
“If we broadcast grasses onto frozen ground, it’s really unreliable as to whether the frost is going to be able to get enough of that seed to soil contact with that larger seed that we have a decent germination rate,” O’Reilly said. “There are producers that have had success with (frost seeding grasses), it’s not as consistent as with legumes.”
Some farmers have found success no-till drilling spring cereals in frosty conditions.
Those producers are “going in when there’s frost on the ground, the frost is holding up the tractor, they’re drilling their cereal seed, which is similar sized to (perennial) grass seeds, and they’re not worried about the seed trench closing, because the frost will do that,” O’Reilly explained. “So, you’re still using frost to get that same seed-to-soil contact for germination but you’re using it in a different way.”
She doesn’t yet have data on the technique, but it could be similarly useful for seeding perennial grasses, she added. “I think that’s worth a try rather than broadcasting.”
However, if the window for frost seeding has passed in Ontario, producers may need to wait for later planting.
“If that was our only frost seeding window and we’re done for the spring, which, looking at the forecast, seems likely right now, then our next window is a more ‘normal’ springtime seeding. When the ground is dry enough and fit to carry equipment, they could go in and do some hay or pasture field renovation at that point,” O’Reilly explained. “In that situation, broadcasting is going to have a much lower success rate, your germination is not going to be nearly as good.”
Broadcasting works for frost seeding because the freeze-thaw works the seed into the ground.
“We’re typically frost seeding to thicken up a thin stand or re-introduce legumes that have disappeared from a stand, those kinds of renovation issues,” O’Reilly said. “It’s usually not a brand-new stand … there’s probably existing established forage already there.”
For that job, using a no-till drill is likely the best approach, if farmers have access to one, she explained. “The hardest part with drills and with forage mixtures is the depth, because legumes need to be planted at a much shallower depth than our grasses because of that difference in seed size.”
But if you can get the planting depth right, “no-till drilling into an established stand is a great way to do some of that renovation work,” she added.
Andrii Yalanskyi\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo