Producers should consider fall cover crops to make up for forage shortage

With the drought hitting the Ozarks, producers may need to consider different approaches to their fall pasture program. Establishing fall pasture stands this year might mean planting “alternative” crops and forages, and some different management techniques.

“If you have row crop fields, plant cover crops for fall grazing,” suggested Jill Scheidt, agronomy specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. “Most cover crops should be planted in August or early September, so corn fields are often used.”

Good choices of cover crops to graze livestock on in the fall include oats, turnips, wheat or cereal rye. Fall cover crops should be planted as early as possible. If possible, producers should factor this into their harvest season to maximize fall yields. Producers should also be cautious as to what type of herbicides have been used on the row crop fields and the withdrawal period for that specific brand since fall cover crops are sensitives to herbicides. Some producers may opt for legumes for their fall pasture stand. Professor John Jennings and the University of Arkansas Extension recommend that as new seedlings emerge, livestock should be removed until the legumes reach sufficient size for grazing or hay harvest. Sufficient size of the legume will vary with species and intended use of the legume. If the legume is being used for grazing, turn-in livestock when the legume is about 6- to 10-inches in height and remove the livestock when it has been grazed down to 3 inches. Rotational grazing will allow for more total yield produced over the growing season and will aid in maintaining the stand.

Existing crops can aid producers in growing new forage stands for the fall.

“If you have access to aerial seeding, cover crop seeds can be sown into existing soybean fields when 50 percent of leaves have dropped. This allows the seeds soil contact, as well as residue to reduce weed pressure,” Scheidt said.

While producers should have their soils tested to determine the fertility, if fall cover crops are being planted, money can be saved since large amounts of fertilizer are often not necessary.

“Typically, most cover crops do not need a lot of fertilization, unless wheat or cereal rye is planted for grazing,” Scheidt said. “Then a small amount of nitrogen can be added.”

While fall cover crops can be quite helpful when it comes to establishing new forage stands, producers should take care to not create future weed problems.

“If planting rye, read the product label carefully to ensure the purchase of cereal rye and not annual ryegrass,” Scheidt explained. “Annual ryegrass can create a weed problem in fields growing a wheat crop.” She also advised producers to use caution about planting into existing pastures.

“It is not recommended to sow grass forages into an existing fescue pasture that has a thick stand, even if fescue growth is currently thin. Thick fescue stands make it difficult for other seeds to germinate. Fescue pastures are dormant and not actively growing during the summer months. If adequate rainfall is received in the fall, fescue will resume growth and an alternative grass forage may not be needed in the pasture. If an alternative grass crop does grow well, it can cause a bare spot in fescue pastures, leaving room for weed seeds to take advantage and germinate.”

“Row crop fields are the best location for planting cover crops to be grazed,” Scheidt said. “Choose carefully if selecting alternate crops to plant into existing fescue pastures, to decrease the likelihood of creating a weed problem later. No matter what crop you are planting, moisture is needed for seeds to germinate; some stands still may not come up well if adequate moisture isn’t received.”


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