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Successful Forage Establishment

Download the Successful Forage Crop Establishment document in Adobe PDF format.

Additional Forage Establishment Information via the Forage Information System (FIS)

Planning One Year Ahead to Improve Establishment Success

The high costs associated with seeding forage crops makes it a rather "high stakes" farming operation. The days of spreading some seeds on the ground and hoping for nature to cooperate are past. Today, success is imperative. Forage producers must minimize risk as much as possible to ensure successful forage crop establishment. Here are some practices that can improve the successfulness of forage crop seedings.

Like most other high risk farming operations it is important to plan ahead. Planning ahead can not only improve the chances of successful forage establishment, it can also greatly reduce the amount of personal worrying after a forage has been seeded.

Select Forage Species. Decide which forage species or mixture will be seeded. Some species are better suited to certain soil types than others. For example, alfalfa does not tolerate poorly drained or low pH soils. Red clover or reed canarygrass perform very well under these conditions. In many cases, it is difficult and expensive to change soil characteristics, however, species can be changed easily with little or no expense. Proper matching of forage species to soil characteristics not only makes establishment easier but also improves production over the life of the stand. Refer to a series of Penn State Agronomy Fact publications on forage species and their adaptability to Pennsylvania conditions.

Do not attempt to seed alfalfa back into an alfalfa field within 1 year from when the old alfalfa was killed. Established alfalfa plants produce a chemical which is toxic to alfalfa seedlings. Rotating out of alfalfa for a minimum of one year will allow the chemical to decompose. In addition, rotating to another crop will help reduce alfalfa disease and insect pests.

Soil Test. A soil test should be completed and lime added to correct low pH conditions at least six months prior to forage seeding. Planning a year in advance will also allow several opportunities to apply any nutrients that the soil test recommends in large quantities. Refer to Agronomy Facts 31-A "Soil Fertility Management for Forage Crops: Pre-establishment" for more information about soil testing and adjusting soil pH.

Control Weeds. Weed control in previous crops can significantly reduce weed infestations during forage seedling establishment. However, herbicide use during the year preceding a forage seeding should be monitored closely. Carryover in the soil of triazine herbicides used on the previous corn crop will cause yellowing and potential death of young legume seedlings. Avoid using triazine herbicides in the last year of corn. If triazine is used in the year preceding forage seeding, rates should be less than one pound per acre. Refer to the Agronomy Guide or product labels for information about herbicides containing triazine.