The 46th Annual Field Day at the Southwest Research Center in Mt. Vernon, Mo,. was abuzz with ways to reduce input costs. Tim Schnakenberg tackled this head on with a presentation on interseeding legumes.
Seven Reasons to Interseed Legumes
1. Legumes reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizer
2. They lower endophyte toxicity in pastures
3. They improve overall forage quality
4. They can increase animal gains
5. They can increase weaning weights
6. They can increase a cow's conception rates
7. Legumes will even out the feed supply
First, Schnakenberg warned, don't expect immediate results. "It can take a full year to see clover benefits," he said. "The textbooks say clover can produce 150 to 200 lbs. and alfalfa upwards of 300 lbs. But not all nitrogen is available. It takes time," he said.
Schnakenberg estimated that at 60 lb/acre nitrogen at $0.74/lb. it costs $44.40/acre to apply nitrogen. Over three years, that's $133.20/acre (with nitrogen staying at $0.74/lb).
Alternatively, he noted, 1.5 lbs/acre of white clover at $6.50/lb. equals $9.75/acre. And over three years that cost stays at $9.75/acre. (It must also be factored that phosphorus and lime could be added at the estimated rate of $115/acre over three years.) Also, the clover numbers do assume 100 lbs. available nitrogen produced per year.
In the end, however, the savings will still be relevant, especially when several acres are being factored in.
You Get What You Pay For
When making a decision to interseed legumes, Schnakenberg encouraged producers to not skimp on product. "Higher priced clovers tend to persist longer and have good fertility," he noted.
A good goal for many producers interseeding legumes is a pasture that has 25 to 30 percent legume components. The white clover options are Schnakenberg's preference, because he has found them to persist despite the rigors of being in animal pasture.
"The small white clovers (white dutch, durana) tolerate grazing pressure," he said, "But the large ladino clovers are not reseeding as well, I've found. They have fewer stolons and they have more upright growth with leaves higher on the plant."
Persistance is very important, Schnakenberg said.
No-till or broadcast seeding is the expert's preferred method for incorporating the legumes. Schnakenberg said distribution is everything. The preference for both methods is to plant clover in February. Lespedeza must be planted by May, but you can do it in March.
As a final note, Schnakenberg added that it is vital to have a good grazing system to keep the distribution of the nutrients even. "The best way to enhance nitrogen in this type of a system?" Schnakenberg asked, "Move your cows frequently."