There are many factors that influence successful forage production and many changes we can make in our own forage programs towards improvement. Below are five key steps that, if we as producers keep as the focus of our forage programs, will get us on the right path to improved forage systems.
Step 1: TEST!
As any member of Extension will tell you the first step to assessing a problem is looking at test results. Conducting and maintaining regular soil tests will help you in assessing and determining your soil nutrient needs and deficiencies. Making good “guesses” at fertility needs over extended periods of time can have detrimental effects on the stand life of your forage. Regular testing of our soils, as well as our forage, can result in improved knowledge of our forage needs, quality, and deficiencies. Unless you test, it’s just a Guess!
Step 2: Plan
A good forage program doesn’t happen instantly, it takes time, management, and planning. Determine what your overall goal for your forage program is and then take the time to study and research the steps to achieve it BEFORE you make that first change. Often I am asked “where do I start?” The question shouldn’t be where to start – you start with what you have, the question is how do I reach my overall goal? First and foremost remember there are no instance fixes, snake oils, or miracles. As I am reminded often: it didn’t take it a day to get where it is, and it will take longer than a day to fix it. So let’s start fixing our forage programs.
Step 3: Start with Quality Forage
Many times our pitfalls in forage production occur before we ever try to utilize the forage as a growing crop. It is very important, especially in these economic times, that we choose good, high quality seed. Choosing certified seed gives us an assurance of higher quality seed than ‘mixed guess’ commercial bags. It is imperative that we know what we are planting and have the added assurance that is provided when choosing certified seed. You’d hate to buy the cheap bag of tall fescue and end up with a field full of perennial ryegrass and foxtails! Use proper planting methods. Follow guidelines as provided on the seed bag and in extension publications. Plant at the proper depth, seed rate, in the properly prepared environment, at the right time and with the proper equipment to achieve success. Check and recheck that your seeders are calibrated every time you start to plant! Don’t waste your time trying to save a dime, buy the quality of seed to represent the quality of forage you want!
Step 4: Manage
Management is key in quality forage production. Remember, as with anything in life, you reap what you sow and to have quality forage you need quality management. Manage for pests, weeds, diseases, anticipated weather, and most importantly high quality yields. You want to give your forage the best advantage at being competitive to provide you with high quality, persistent stands. Remember that high quality does not mean high tonnage! Harvesting your forage at the proper time to achieve high quality is key to any successful forage system. Forage quality can be the difference in profit and additional costs due to poor quality and supplementation requirements. Quality is greater than Quantity!
Step 5: Utilize
The most successful forage producers are very good at utilizing their forage to it’s full potential. Utilizing various grazing methods within a system, and utilizing the forage at peak quality performance can lead to a lower reliance on stored feed and extended grazing potential. Successful forage producers also utilize their resources. Some of the best lessons are ones learned from mistakes! Good forage producers utilize the lessons they have learned, that others have taught them, and don’t give up after one bad experience. They also utilize the education provided from industry professionals and fellow farmers. It is easier to ask perceived dumb questions than to correct dumb mistakes!
Keeping these five steps in mind as you focus on your forage will help anyone become a better forage producer.
Dr. Jennifer Tucker, Associate Professor – Beef Nutrition and Forage Management, UGA Tifton
The Alliance for Grassland Renewal is a national organization focused on enhancing the appropriate adoption of novel endophyte tall fescue technology through education, incentives, self-regulation and promotion. For more resources or to learn more about the Alliance for Grassland Renewal, go to www.grasslandrenewal.org