Growing quality: Alfalfa expert discusses production at forage seminarsWritten by Emilee Gibb
Casper – The Wyoming Hay and Forage Association hosted kickoff seminars in various locations across the state on Nov. 14-17.
In addition to a roundtable discussion on hay marketing and transportation and a presentation on the organization of the Association, the seminars also hosted CROPLAN – Winfield Alfalfa and Forage Specialist Jeff Jackson, who discussed optimizing alfalfa production.
While producers have differences in the environment they’re growing alfalfa in and their specific goals, Jackson noted that every producer ultimately wants to improve their production.
“What we want to do is make more tons, and on the other side, we want to improve to get higher quality,” said Jackson.
Having a firm seedbed is critical for a quality alfalfa stand, stressed Jackson.
“My rule of thumb is, if we sink in past the sole of our shoe before we go plant alfalfa, it’s too soft,” said Jackson.
Deciding when to plant is one of the most important decisions that producers will make, said Jackson.
“Do I put the seed in the ground today, or do I make sure it’s better before I do it?”
Jackson advised planting seeds one-quarter of an inch into the soil, ranging up to three-quarters of an inch in coarse soils and no-till fields to reach moisture for germination.
There is not a single way that is best for producers to prepare their fields and plant alfalfa, said Jackson, but they must ensure that general planting principles are met.
“There’s about 1,500 ways to plant alfalfa. We need to just be sure that we’re getting a firm seedbed, we’re not too deep or leaving the seed all on top and other factors like that,” continued Jackson.
“If we were to go into the fertilizer bin and scoop fertilizer out, it’s going to take 50 pounds of pot ash fertilizer, 15 pounds of phosphorus, five pounds of sulfur and 0.1 pounds of boron for every ton of dry matter that comes off of that ground,” commented Jackson.
He explained that this equates to 400 pounds of fertilizer, if a producer takes six tons off of a field.
As an alfalfa producer himself, Jackson noted that this is extremely costly, but producers do not want to diminish the growth of the next crop rotating in to the field.
“We need to do what we can. Long-term, that ground isn’t going to sustain itself forever,” said Jackson.
“Depending on what a producer is going to rotate to for the next crop following that alfalfa ground, they don’t want to have to play catch up many years later. We have to be able to put some fertilizer or nutrients back in.”
Soil pH is another factor that may be helpful for producers to consider, especially in situations where soil pH is 7.5 to eight.
“Alfalfa does pretty good in high pH, but if we get 7.5 to eight, our phosphates are going to start getting tied up. It ties up iron. We have less availability of some of these nutrients,” he continued.
Referencing an experience with a producer where added micronutrients increased production by over one ton per acre, Jackson advised supplementing plants with micronutrients to increase forage production in high pH soils.
“If we have a high pH soil, we need to pay attention to how to take care of some of those micronutrient needs that we’re talking about, such as zinc, boron and manganese,” said Jackson.
Whether moisture is due to precipitation or irrigation, Jackson noted that oftentimes producers have problems with bacterial and fungal infections in alfalfa.
“When we pull the canopy open in irrigation systems, we can have this situation where the leaves start to turn yellow underneath and get spring blackstem and bacterial leaf spot underneath there,” said Jackson.
He advised applying a fungicide to alfalfa plants during the optimal window of six to eight inches in height.
“We should plan to apply it when that alfalfa breaks dormancy in the spring and is about four to six inches tall because, by the time we get an application out there, it’s going to be six to eight inches tall,” continued Jackson.
Spraying a fungicide to lower the incidence of disease helps producers maintain the lower leaves on the plants, as well as improves regrowth quality and plant vigor.
“It’s big deal to maintain those lower leaves because those are the first things that fall off when we start moving it around,” said Jackson. “It improves quality and tonnage.”
He noted that producers do not have to apply a fungicide with every cutting to have the benefits.
“We can get by two cuttings with one application of fungicide. It’s only labeled for three applications a year anyway,” explained Jackson.
Alsike Clover: A High Quality Forage Legume for High ElevationsWritten by Anowar Islam
There are many legume crops that can be used as important forage legumes. Alfalfa, the queen of forages, is one of the best legumes, and it can be grown in every state of the U.S. Alfalfa is the number one crop in Wyoming and contributes hugely to the nation’s economy.
However, there are some areas in Wyoming, especially at high elevations, alfalfa does not perform very well in grass mixtures. So, what are other alternatives? Alsike clover is a forage legume that can potentially be used in this scenario.
Alsike clover, also called Swedish clover or hybrid clover, is a short-lived, perennial legume. It is well adapted to southern Canada, the northern U.S. and, importantly, the higher elevations of the western U.S. Being a cool-season crop, alsike clover prefers relatively moist habitats and cool environments. It has good acid and alkaline tolerance and performs well in low fertility and poorly drained soils. However, it does not have tolerance to drought.
The growth of alsike clover is intermediate compared to alfalfa. It has an upright growth habit; hollow, branched stems; and a short taproot. The leaves of alsike clover are a little wider than alfalfa, with toothed leaf margins and prominent veins. The flowers have a small head with beautiful white- to pink-colored petals.
Like alfalfa, alsike clovers can be planted in spring or late summer. The recommended seeding rate is eight to 10 pounds per acre when planted alone and four to six pounds per acre in a mixture. The seed size of alsike clover is very similar to alfalfa, so it should be planted 0.125 to 0.25 inches deep. If the soil is light and sandy, it can be planted 0.5 inches deep. There are a few varieties available in the market to purchase, such as alsike clover 98/85, Aurora and Dawn. It is highly recommended that seeds should be inoculated with alsike clover-specific Rhizobium bacteria for proper nodulation and nitrogen fixation.
Alsike clovers can be used for hay and pasture. It performs better in mixtures with grasses and other legumes, such as red clover and white clover. It is also used for soil improvement. The forage quality of alsike clover is high and comparable to alfalfa. In general, for hay, only one cutting should be made at near full bloom.
Alsike clovers should not be harvested four to six weeks before hard frost. Another side note is that, being a clover and similar to alfalfa, it also has potential to cause bloat problems and may be photosensitive to cattle.
As always, if you want to learn more about alsike clovers or have any specific questions, please feel free to contact me.
Wyo hay, forage producers band together to create new organizationWritten by Saige Albert
As hay prices continue to come down from highs during years of extreme drought across the country, Wyoming hay and forage producers are seeking avenues to capture the best value for the high-quality product they provide. To meet that goal, producers and associated businesses have come together to form a new organization – the Wyoming Hay and Forage Association.
Scott Keith, Wyoming Business Council forage program manager, says, “The goal of the organization is very simple – to expand marketing opportunities for the hay and forage industry.”
Ron Richner, a Casper hay producer and member of the establishing committee for the organization says, “We hope to help everyone – from the small producer to the large producer – be able to market their hay and get exposure in markets they might not otherwise have.”
“We have a high quality product, and we want to market it,” he adds.
Mike Fabrizius, a producer from Riverton and Southwest Region director of the Association, says, “We’ve had a lot of interest from farmers and ranchers so far. I’m really excited about where this is going to take us.”
A group of four producers from around the state has led the development of the Wyoming Hay and Forage Association. The establishing committee included Richner, Jessica Sullivan of Riverton, Wayne Tatman of Lingle and Howard Gernant of Greybull. University of Wyoming Extension’s Caleb Carter will also be integral in the organization of the Association.
A Board of Directors, consisting of one producer from each of the four regions of the state and two at-large non-producer members, has also been formed.
“The committee of people who have been involved in this is pretty important,” Keith says. “We split up the state into four regions for our directors.”
The Southeast Region, represented by Kenny Degering of Lusk, covers Niobrara, Platte, Goshen, Laramie and Albany counties. Fabrizius represents the Southwest Region, which includes Fremont, Carbon, Sweetwater, Uinta, Lincoln, Teton and Sublette counties. From the Northwest Region, including Park, Big Horn, Hot Springs and Washakie counties, Gerry Danko of Powell serves as the producer director, and Brian Wing of Casper is the Northeast Region director. The Northeast Region covers Natrona, Johnson, Sheridan, Campbell, Crook and Weston counties.
“We also have two areas that we classify as at-large,” Keith explains. “They are the east and west halves of the state. These at-large directors aren’t producers. They are people who are involved in organizations or industries that are heavily dependent on the hay and forage industry.”
Terry Niswonger of Torrington and Greg Anderson of Riverton were selected for the at-large positions.
Keith adds, “These people were selected by the establishing committee, and they spent quite a bit of time looking at the regions and identifying people who would be willing and able to serve, as well as people who are strong representatives of the industry.”
The state is split into regions such that each region produces approximately the same tonnage of hay based on Wyoming agriculture statistics.
The main element of the Association will be a website that provides the opportunity to list hay for sale. The site will also feature a list of hay producers and associated businesses that sponsor the organization.
“This website will be a place that members can put what kind of hay they have, how much hay they have and the quality, if they want, so people know it’s available for sale,” Fabrizius says. “We’re still working out the details about how it will work.”
Fabrizius adds that no prices will be listed on the site to encourage direct contact between producers and hay buyers.
The Wyoming Hay and Forage Association aims to create a directory for hay producers around the state.
Richner says, “We want to create an Association that people will be involved in with a platform that is user-friendly and promotes Wyoming hay.”
The organization will also partner with the Wyoming Business Council to put on the Wyoming State Hay Show at the Wyoming State Fair and exhibit Wyoming hay at the World Dairy Expo, Forage Superbowl and other national trade shows.
The Association directory, as well as more information from producers, will be prominently displayed at these trade show venues, as well.
In addition to marketing activities, Fabrizius and Keith emphasize that education is another important piece the Association will follow up with.
“As time goes on, in each region, there will be different events, like field days and forage seminars, to provide education opportunities for producers on production practices, forage testing practices and other things,” Keith says.
Fabrizius adds, “Most of us have worked with a lot of guys from seed companies and other places, and they know their stuff. We’d like to try to bring some of them together for an educational program to talk to farmers.”
He notes that the meetings will likely be set in the winter months when producers aren’t trying to get work done in the fields.
An additional component of the Association will be a transportation hub where producers can find trucking for their hay.
“We’ve had some trouble with guys who sell hay but then can’t find the trucks available to transport it because of interstate transport laws and other things,” Keith explains. “We want to try to connect producers to guys with trucks.”
Fabrizius notes that the Association is still working to establish its final bylaws, but they are beginning to see interest from producers around the state.
“I’ve had several people call and ask me about the Association,” he says, adding, “Everyone I’ve talked to is on board.”
Keith adds that soon, membership will be available for producers.
Fabrizius adds, “This will be an avenue for farmers who don’t know where to go or people who don’t know where to buy hay.”
How Low Can Rangeland Forage Quality Go?Written by Derek Scasta
As I look out the window, the snow is flying sideways in one of those spring snowstorms that are the root for the many jokes about Wyoming not really having a spring. Although we know that warmer days are around the corner, we are still dealing with below freezing temperatures, debilitating winter weather and mostly dormant forage on rangelands. I have also been fighting these conditions to collect forage samples to understand how low rangeland forage quality can go in the winter. I say “fighting” because, trust me, it is hard to keep a paper sack from blowing away as you are trying clip grass samples in March in Wyoming!
In this study, I am looking at three very common grasses on Wyoming rangelands. The first grass species is blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), a native warm-season grass that forms small bunches and mats. Blue grama is less productive than many other grasses due to its small size, but it provides good grazing, is palatable, drought tolerant and can increase under heavy grazing.
The second grass species is crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum), a non-native, cool-season bunch grass. Crested wheatgrass was introduced to the United States from Asia. This exotic species is capable of establishing very easily and producing a lot of forage. Typically, crested wheatgrass starts growing before other native cool-season grasses and is good for early spring grazing but digestibility may decline rapidly through the growing season.
The third grass species is western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii). Western wheatgrass is a native grass that is rhizomatous and can produce a moderate amount of high quality forage for grazing.
In January, I collected four independent samples for each species on the University of Wyoming’s Agricultural Experiment Station pastures west of Laramie and sent them to the laboratory to determine crude protein, true digestibility at 48-hours in vitro and total digestible nutrients (TDN). I have put all of this data in a bar graph to the right so you can see the differences between the forage species.
Average crude protein was the highest for western wheatgrass at 6.5 percent. Blue grama and crested wheatgrass both had lower crude protein values than western wheatgrass at 4.8 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively. Average digestibility was the highest for blue grama at 66 percent, intermediate for western wheatgrass at 53 percent and the lowest for crested wheatgrass at 47 percent. TDN, or energy, was the highest for western wheatgrass and blue grama at 50 percent and 49 percent, respectively, and was lower for crested wheatgrass at 46 percent.
So what does this mean for ranchers? First and foremost, in January, all of the rangeland forage species had crude protein values lower than the needs of all classes of cattle. Remember, general rules of thumb are dry cows need about seven percent crude protein, growing heifers need about 10 percent crude protein, and lactating cows need about 12 percent crude protein.
It also illustrates that some species, such as western wheatgrass, retain crude protein better than other species.
Secondly, just because a forage species is low in crude protein does not mean it is low in digestibility. Consider the high level of digestibility for blue grama in this study, at 66 percent.
Third, TDN requirements for all classes of cattle typically exceed 50 percent, so all three forage species were below that level.
So, depending on how much dormant forage is available, protein supplementation to increase dry matter intake and increase total TDN in the diet is something that has to be considered. This is all especially relevant depending on your breeding and calving program and the stressful periods when cows have a particularly high nutritional demand such as late gestation and early lactation.
Thus, you have to consider your reproductive management and calving or lambing periods relative to forage quality and animal demand. Finally, it is important to realize that not all rangeland forage species offer the same level of quality, digestibility or energy. Maintaining a mixture of forage species can optimize different plant nutritional traits through the year.
So the short answer to the question, “How low can rangeland forage quality go?” is, lower than animal needs for all three forage species we tested in January.
Agronomist reviews various cover crop options, discusses nitrogen fixationWritten by Natasha Wheeler
“It takes a lot of research and a lot of time to figure out what works where,” notes Dave Robison, Legacy Seed forage and cover crop agronomist.
Between 2009 and 2013, Robison and his fellow researchers placed over 450 cover crop plots in Ontario, Canada, the eastern Corn Belt and the upper Midwest to study how cover crops relate to nitrogen fixation.
“When we look at different cover crops, nitrogen production is one of the benefits we’re going to get from them. Several legumes make good cover crops, and how much nitrogen they produce depends on several factors,” he comments.
Many legumes are sold pre-inoculated, but Robison warns growers that some might not be. Inoculated legumes had better success in their research.
Moving into an overview of different crop species, Robison says that Austrian winter peas are a key product in many situations, especially when planted after wheat or other cereal grains.
“In most areas, it will winterkill. It would be nice to have five or six weeks of good growth, and longer is generally better with peas. We can produce 70 to 135 pounds of nitrogen per acre with Austrian winter peas,” he explains.
Field peas are generally less winter-hardy than Austrian winter peas, but they make a good short-term cover crop, produce excellent forage and work well for weed control, according to Legacy Seed research.
Earthworms love crimson clover, often more than other clovers or peas, and the clover can produce up to 140 pounds of nitrogen per acre within a few months.
“This is my favorite cover crop because it can produce a whole lot of nitrogen in a short period,” Robison remarks. “In 90 days following wheat, we have been able to measure up to 140 pounds per acre of nitrogen.”
“Medium red clover is probably the least costly cover crop. Although it rarely happens, it can get too tall in wheat and affect the harvest. We can produce 75 to 200 pounds per acre of nitrogen. It has a good root system, is a good soil producer, is easily killed and makes excellent forage,” he explains.
Yellow blossom sweet clover is another cover crop option, although it hosts the soybean cyst nematode and is not recommended in soybean fields.
Although, Robison remarks, “It is an excellent soil builder – maybe one of the best soil builders.”
Hairy vetch can produce 100 to 200 pounds of nitrogen per acre, and most of its nitrogen is found in the top growth. It generally has a more shallow root system and older varieties may present a challenge with hard seeds.
“I am learning there may be some different varieties coming out with less hard seed,” he comments.
Chickling vetch is generally more costly, but 50 percent of the nitrogen it produces is reportedly available for the following crop.
“Chickling vetch can produce a lot of nitrogen, 60 to 100 pounds per acre, and it’s a crop that really has a lot of promise and benefit if we can get more seed production and get the seed cost down,” he notes.
Sunn hemp is a cover crop that has gained some recent media attention. The summer legume should be planted nine weeks before a killing frost.
“It can produce up to 120 pounds of nitrogen per acre,” he says, adding that although it has historically been an expensive crop, seed supplies have been increasing in recent years.
“Mung beans are hard to find, so they’re used for sprouting. They're an excellent crop for heat and drought tolerance and a good nitrogen fixer, and the crop can be hayed and grazed,” Robison continues.
Nitrogen scavengers are also important for retaining nitrogen within the soil, and Robison says that radishes and peas are great to use with cover crops and manure.
“We know that turnips are excellent scavengers. There’s not a lot of money spent on advertising turnips, so we don’t usually think about turnips a whole lot when we think about cover crops. But, turnips have very similar scavenging abilities to radishes, and if we’re using the right turnips, we have a lot of soil activity, as well. That can be very beneficial,” he remarks.
Sudan grasses or sorghum-Sudan grasses, milo or other summer and annual grasses can also serve as nitrogen scavengers, with the ability to sequester up to 200 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
“Annual ryegrass is a high risk, high reward cover crop. It can be difficult to kill, and it probably has the deepest roots, but there are millions of acres that have been killed effectively over the years. It probably has the deepest and most fibrous root mass of any of the scavengers that we’re going to be able to find. It’s an excellent scavenger of nitrogen,” he states.
Winter rye can also become a challenge if not monitored carefully, as it can grow and spread quickly in the spring. Yet, it has good rooting depth and winter hardiness and has the greatest opportunity for success planted later in the year with any type of cover crop, according to Robison.
“Even if we have short cover crops, especially when we’re getting into some of our clovers, that doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t getting a significant amount of nitrogen production,” he comments, adding that the health of scavenger plants can indicate available nitrogen levels in the soil.