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Topics : Successful Forage Establishment

Successful Forage Establishment

  • Planning One Year Ahead to Improve Establishment Success
  • Planning Six Months Ahead to Improve Establishment Success
  • Following Sound Tillage and Seeding Practices:
  • Properly Manage Young Forage Seedings

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

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


Tillage Options for Successful Forage Establishment

Conventional Tillage. Tillage of the soil when it is too wet will make establishing a forage crop difficult. Tilling wet soil causes soil compaction which reduces water movement through the soil and hinders root development. In addition, it is difficult to achieve a fine seedbed or good seed-to-soil contact if the soil was wet at the time of tillage.

A firm and fine seedbed helps regulate seeding depth and improves seed-to-soil contact. However, excessive tillage will destroy desirable soil structure, reduce soil porosity, decrease water infiltration, and increase the probability of soil crusting.

A level seedbed will greatly reduce the wear on equipment and the machinery operator during harvesting. A few minutes to properly adjust the tillage implement to achieve a level seedbed or one extra tillage pass to level the seedbed pays dividends over the life of the forage stand.

If weeds haven't been controlled previously or are expected to be a problem during forage legume establishment, then the use of a preplant incorporated herbicide may be beneficial. More information on weed control in forages can be found in Penn State's Agronomy Guide.

Response of forage seedings to starter fertilizers (small amount of fertilizer placed near the seed at the time of seeding) has been inconsistent. If starter fertilizers are to be beneficial, it is generally thought to be when there are adverse conditions (wet and cold soils, soils with low fertility, or soils with poor physical properties) for seedling development. Refer to Agronomy Facts 31-B "Soil Fertility Management for Forage Crops: Establishment" for more information about starter fertilizers.

No-Till. No-till forage seeding is ideal for many soils and the topography in Pennsylvania. It can be very successful if a few precautions are taken.

  1. A no-till drill is necessary for successful no-till establishment of forages. No-till drills are designed and equipped to seed in soil that has not been tilled. Conventional grain drills should not be used to no-till forages.
  2. Weed suppression is essential to successful no-till forage establishment. Any green plants present in the field at seeding should be controlled with Gramoxone Extra or Roundup/Ranger herbicides.
  3. Successful no-till seedings require that seeding be done at the proper soil moisture. The no-till drill opens a slit in the soil by a disc or narrow shovel. The seed is droped into the slit. If the ground is too wet, the slit will not close resulting in poor seed-to-soil contact. On the other hand, when the soil is too dry it is difficult to get the no-till drill to penetrate the soil and place the seed at the proper depth. See the Penn State Agronomy Guide for more detailed information on successful no-till forage establishment.

Successful forage seedings have been made with many type of seeders. The method of seeding is not as important as achieving proper seeding depth and good seed-to-soil contact.