Tips to successfully renovate grass pastures with legumes
By JERRY LITTLE
Following established management practices is a critical factor in beef cow-calf producers’ successful legume renovation of grass pastures and hayfields. Renovation is a solid management practice for the more than seven million acres of pastures and hayfields for Kentucky’s animal-based agriculture.
To be sure you use legume varieties that will perform well in your area, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service office to obtain the results of forage variety trials from the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture. The results of our legume variety trials, among others, will help you pick the best varieties for your particular operation.
Consider the ultimate use of the forage when deciding which legume to use.
Alfalfa or red clover usually is best for hay. A red clover-ladino-clover combination works well for both hay and pasture. For pasture only, ladino clover, red clover or annual lespedeza work well.
Since legumes need a higher soil pH and fertility level than grasses, take a soil test and apply the recommended lime and fertilizer. Don’t add nitrogen during the establishment year because it will stimulate growth of grass that will compete with seedling legumes for nutrients and moisture and likely will shade the emerging seedlings.
Always use improved certified varieties for better yield and stand persistence. Red clover variety trials revealed that seeding an improved, certified variety yields three tons more dry matter over the life of the stand.
To provide the bacteria needed for nitrogen fixation, mix a high-quality inoculant with seed before planting, or use lime-coated, pre-inoculated seed. Use a sticking agent to be sure the inoculant adheres to the seed.
It’s important for seed to fall on bare dirt; then, allow the winter freezing-thawing action to work seed into the soil. The thawing method doesn’t work well with alfalfa.
To improve seed-soil contact, use a disk, a field cultivator or a field tiller to break up soil so the seed have a better chance to germinate and grow. An alternative practice is to use a no-till renovation seeder. Broadcast clover seed on the soil surface, or drill them from now until mid-March. After mid-March, drill to improve seed-to-soil contact.
Follow recommended seeding rates of six to 12 pounds per acre for red clover and one to two pounds an acre for white clover.
Allow heavy grazing through early winter to remove excess grass cover and improve seed-soil contact.
For more information, contact your Boyle County Cooperative Extension Service office.
Jerry Little is the Boyle County extension agent for Agriculture/Natural Resources.