By Matthew Nussbaum
A much needed and steady rain was falling a week ago across some of Wayne County. If we continue to have cycles of several dry days followed by timely rain, a late-summer seeding of hay or pasture might be a good option in the next couple of weeks.Source : osu.edu
The benefits of a late summer seeding include reduced weed pressure during establishment, typically having less field work compared to spring, and the opportunity for a harvestable crop early next year. The possible downfalls of summer seeding include the risk of dry periods that will reduce germination and ensuring ample time between seeding and the first fall frost.
Mark Sulc, OSU Extension Forage Specialist, shared several establishment tips in a 2016 OSU AgCrops article, which will be discussed below.
Weed pressure following small grains is typically low, especially if weeds were well managed in the small grain crop. In addition, weed seeds are not as likely to germinate in the fall, so establishing a hay field or pasture stand in late July or early August can help to control weed pressure next year. Compared to a spring seeding, where harvest will be delayed past established fields’ first cutting, a summer seeding can be mowed or grazed “on time.”
Summer seeding is also a way to mitigate the risk of an upcoming Spring that could be consistently wet, which would prevent planting beyond the recommended dates. Considering a summer planting increases planting windows to two. Waiting until spring leaves you with just one for a crop next year.
However, the establishment of any crop is dependent on the weather. Even the best manager cannot avoid the consequences of limited rain for an extended time after seeding. While that is not the norm in late summer/fall, it is a possibility.
The average first frost in our area arrives in early October. Alfalfa does best with 8-10 weeks between germination and the first hard frost. That allows plants to begin contractile growth which improves winter hardiness. Clovers should have an established crown before the frost and grasses should begin tillering for improved winter survival.
Alfalfa seedings delayed into late August increase the chance of sclerotinia crown and stem rot. This disease is more common when no-till is used and/or clover was recently growing.
If you use tillage to establish the hay or pasture seeding, a firm seed bed is needed. A firm seed bed will only allow your footprint to sink ½” into the soil. Preferred seeding depth is around ¼ inch, no more than ½ inch. A level field improves uniform seeding depth and easier field management in following years.
Should weed pressure arise, a few new weeds are much easier to kill than weeds that are re-growing after being clipped by the combine. About 20% of established weeds may survive an herbicide application. Chemical weed control options exist for pure alfalfa or pure grass stands. Use of either a grass selective or broadleaf selective chemical respectively may work but read the label as not all products are acceptable for forages. Mixed hay or pasture stands have very few options for control. Tilled fields typically do not require any pre-plant herbicides when seeded during this time.
With the elevated Potato Leaf Hopper (PLH) populations this year, scout new seedings of alfalfa or clover and control PLH using appropriate insecticides. There is great economic return in spraying new seedings as PLH damage will affect yields in following years.
In conclusion, here are some steps to set yourself up for success. Take a soil test before planting and amend the pH (target of 6.8-7.0) and soil fertility, as necessary. Purchase quality seed- you get what you pay for. Is your planter calibrated? Check both seeding rate and planting depth. Remember to adjust rates on treated seed. Finally, do not harvest summer hay seedings this year. Leave any growth in the field.