Stamm: Exploring alternative forages

Published 9:21 am Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The weather during early spring was odd to say the least.

The cold, damp conditions, lasting into early May resulted in the depletion of many producers’ hay reserves and slow, poor growth for pasture and hay field forages.

Furthermore, the persistent wet conditions made it tough for producers to apply fertilizers to their fields. This could result in slow growth for those plants during the remainder of the 2018 growing season.

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With the combination of these factors, many producers have contacted me during the past week or so, looking for other options to fill this forage shortfall. They have expressed interest in alternative forage options.

Alternative forages, as we refer to them, are usually summer annual grasses that grow well during the hot, typically dry summer months of June, July and August. We may also be referring to forage soybeans or other silage options when we refer to “alternative forages.”

These summer annual grasses include, but are not limited to, crabgrass, forage sorghum, foxtail millet, pearl millet, sorghum-sudangrass and sudangrass.

As a rule of thumb, these warm-season grasses are less digestible and lower in crude protein than cool-season grasses such as orchard grass and fescue.

However, they offer optimal growth at high summer temperatures, are more drought tolerant and more efficient at water usage. These characteristics makes these grasses good options for summer forages.

If you are planning to utilize a summer annual on your operation this year, there are some preparations to consider for proper establishment to take place.

First, conduct a soil test to make sure the soil has the required nutrients to support the growth of the crop. Then pick a good seed variety proven to perform in our region.

Next, properly prepare your seedbed. Either work the ground or no-till drill the seed into killed sod. Finally, be sure to use proper seeding rates and depth for the forage you are seeding.

The good news is the Clark County Extension Office can assist with all of those tasks.

Summer annual forages come with some risk as well, all summer annual grasses have nitrate poisoning potential. This poisoning occurs from high rates of nitrogen fertilization and the combination of a drought situation.

Always test these forages if you suspect nitrates are present in the plant. The extension office can assist with this testing.

Prussic acid poisoning is also a risk in sorghum species forages. This usually occurs from grazing after a frost, but can occur anytime the plant enters the “wilt” stage.

If you have any further questions about the use of alternative forages or the condition of our 2018 forage crop, all the Clark County Cooperative Extension Office.

Alternative forages and summer annuals could be a good option for your operation this year.

Clay Stamm is a Clark County Cooperative Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources.