Scout Forage Fields Now

Scout Forage Fields Now
Created by rrummel on 3/15/2014 11:26:29 AM

Plants are breaking dormancy

Forage producers need to get out intotheir fields to assess the health of plants as they begin to break dormancyafter a particularly harsh winter, a Purdue Extension forage specialist says.

Forages growing in areas affected bybelow-zero temperatures during periods of no snow cover are the most at riskfor damage because snow serves as insulation for the plants and protects them frombitter cold. Low-lying parts of fields where snow accumulated and then icedover also are at risk for loss from suffocation.

"The lesson here is to get outthere and observe those fields," Keith Johnson said. "Now is the time. As thecrop breaks dormancy, producers need to check to see if plant green-up isoccurring. If that's not happening after several days with temperatures in the50s and 60s, it's time for concern."

Green-up usually happens around thethird week of March in southern Indiana, then 10 or more days later in thenorthernmost part of the state.

Listen to Johnson talk about assessingforages.

Although soils have stayed frozen formost of the winter, Johnson said alfalfa growers still should pay attention toroot heaving. When some soils, especially those that are saturated and withsome clay, go through multiple freeze and thaw cycles, it can push the alfalfaplant up out of the ground.

Other areas of plants that should beinspected include the crown and taproot.

"Growers should take a tool alongwith them as they scout so they can slice into the crown of a few plants to seeif the bud tissue is cream-colored and green," Johnson said. "Theyalso can inspect the root for cream-colored tissue. If they find dark browntissue, that's not a good sign."

Farmers who find problems in theirfields have a few options to remedy them.

If the problem is severe enough,Johnson said it might mean using land previously intended for another crop toinstead start a new forage stand. But if the problem area is limited to onelarge section of a field, it might be possible to start over just in that area.

"Farmers do have the option topatchwork in new seed in areas of loss, but they need to be aware that it willbe a little bit tricky to manage for the first season because forages will needto be harvested at different times," Johnson said.

Listen to Johnson talk aboutrehabilitating damaged forage stands.

For fields where the stand might bethin, producers can consider over-seeding. Using a broadcast seeder on anall-terrain vehicle is typically a preferred method to avoid taking tractorsand drills into soggy fields.

But before growers over-seed, Johnsonsaid they need to look carefully at soil fertility and residual overgrowth anddevelop a plan to fix any problems.

"Growers need to look forunderlying issues that would cause seedling failure," he said. "Someof those issues include low soil pH and poor fertility. They need to make surethat residual growth from 2013 is no more than 4 inches tall so that the seedcan reach the soil surface.

"Also, overseeding alfalfa seedinto a field that currently has alfalfa is risky because the currentlyestablished alfalfa produces a chemical that hampers the establishment of newalfalfa seedlings."

The timing of over-seeding also iscrucial. Johnson said broadcast seeding should be done at green-up becauseseedlings will have to compete with perennial plants breaking winter dormancy.

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