It’s the time of year to be thinking on ways to improve already established pastures. With the price of nitrogen these days, interseeding legumes just may be a solid answer.
“In southwest Missouri we are fortunate to have a climate and soil type that is conducive to many legumes,” Justin Burns, Forage Specialist with Pennington Seed of Missouri, recommended.
The problem many producers have is deciding what legume to interseed. The answer may be different for each operation.
Meet the Legumes
“Red clover and Alslike clovers tend to be short-lived perennials and produce well over a relatively short period of time,” Burns advised. “Ladino clovers extend their cycle over a slightly longer period of time.” White clovers usually last the longest due to an increase in grazing and drought tolerance. “All clovers can reestablish from seed when allowed to flower and drop seed for the next growing season.
“Alfalfa is a perennial cool season legume that produces high quality forage over a short period of time,” Burns said. Like clover, alfalfa will come back from the roots for several years.
“Annual Lespedeza, which has been a local standard for southwest Missouri producers, is a warm season legume that will produce forage for one year and then die out,” Burns said.
When interseeding legumes, Larry McCroskey, a seedsman for 40 years with Nixa Hardware & Seed Co., said there are two ways to get the seed covered.
“The goal is the same, whether you plant by frost or dormant seeding, or later with no-till drilling, the seed just needs to be covered," McCroskey said.
Fall interseeding allows them to be put up as hay in the following year, and spring seeding will help ensure a more varied and effective grazing system, he explained.
Legumes can be used for all species, and they help build the soil. However, McCroskey advised lespedeza as the choice for horses, to reduce foundering.
Considerations when Interseeding
There are three things producers should take a close look at when considering a legume to interseed: production, life span and cost per acre.
“After identifying which type of legume best fits, a producer should then research varieties within that category to find which one matches their budget and most importantly their expectations,” Burns advised.
"We like to sow red and ladino clover, and they are our two most popular items. Ladino will produce more Nitrogen than lespedeza,” McCroskey noted.
He also added that ladino clover produces more, but red clover produces the hay many farmers seek. "As a result," McCroskey said, “we sell a lot of red clover and ladino clover for the same area."
The number one thing producers need to decide is what they want from a legume. If a producer wants a persistent and grazing tolerant clover that provides high quality forage and reduces input costs, Burns proposed (Durana) White cover. “For those producers wanting to better manage and reduce costs on property used for a combination of haying and grazing I would strongly recommend a highly persistent ladino clover.” But if you need a short transition hay crop that produces high yields with a cool season grass, Burns tells producers red clover is a great choice.
The FinancialsBehind Legumes
Concerning cost per acre, McCroskey gave an example to prove the benefit of utilizing legumes, especially when it comes to being able to replace fertilizer. "It takes 2 lbs. to plant ladino clover at $5.50 an acre, whereas fertlizer is running $60 to $70 per acre," McCroskey said.
Other financial benefits are tangible as well, especially when it comes to gains on livestock.
“Economists will tell you that one of the quickest returns to investments for local producers is adding legumes to their property,” Burns said.
McCroskey added, "Your steer is supposed to gain 100 lbs. more beef in a years time, on a legume grass mixture over or versus a straight grass."