Agricultural producers in central Oklahoma should be finalizing plans now if they want to establish bermudagrass for forage production.

“Given the low price of most commodity crops, many producers are interested in converting old crop fields into permanent forage,” said Wes Lee, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Agricultural Educator for McClain County.

A good bermudagrass field has the potential to produce several tons of good-to-fair-quality hay and several months of grazing for beef cattle and horses. However, Lee explains it is important producers recognize the establishment of bermudagrass pasture is an expensive operation and several steps should be considered if they are to receive a return on their investment.

A producer’s first consideration should be where to try to establish the bermudagrass pasture.

“The more fertile the ground, the better production a producer will obtain from bermudagrass,” Lee said. “Clayey, upland soils with low fertility are probably better suited to native grass species.”

A well-prepared firm seedbed is essential to getting a good stand of bermudagrass. It is best if the soil is fully prepared and sprigs or seed are planted soon after a rain without disturbing the soil.

“Many failures have been caused by loose soil drying out beneath newly planted sprigs or seed,” Lee said. “On very sandy wind-blown soils, bermudagrass can be sprigged directly into small grain stubble.”

Bermudagrass is a permanent pasture that requires a large amount of nutrients. Immobile nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium should be added and incorporated into the soil. Any issues with soil acidity and alkalinity also should be corrected before the crop is planted.

“Any field with a pH below 5.7 should be limed according to a soil test,” Lee said. “Nitrogen is a mobile nutrient and can be added from the top.”

Hybird types of bermudagrass can be sprigged, while non-hybrid types can be seeded. Under high fertility, an adapted hybrid type typically will out produce a seeded type. The most widely sprigged types in central Oklahoma are Midland, Midland 99, Tifton 44 and Hardie. Further south, varieties such as Coastal produce excellent yields, but are not winter hardy enough for locations such as McClain County.

“Producers who are unsure what varieties are most suited to their specific locale can receive useful insights by contacting their OSU Cooperative Extension county office,” Lee said. “We’re listed under ‘County Government’ in most local directories.”

In general, common-seeded bermudagrass varieties produce 70 percent to 95 percent of the production of a hybrid type under high fertility. Also, common-seeded bermudagrass varieties tend not to be very winter hardy. Two notable exceptions are Guymon and Wrangler.

“Even though Guymon and Wrangler have lower yields compared to hybrids, they may be the best choice under certain circumstances,” Lee said. “The cost of establishment is generally cheaper than sprigging. On small acreages, seeding may be the most cost-effective choice in situations where sprigging would be difficult or where maximum forage production is not important.”

On larger fields, hay fields and where high forage rates are needed, Lee favors the use of sprigs, all other considerations being equal.

“For McClain County and areas similar to ours, the best time to plant sprigs would be between March 1 and May 1,” Lee said. “Twenty bushels of sprigs per acre planted, 1.5 to 2 inches deep should be sufficient. More sprigs will encourage lapping or coverage faster.”

Seeds should be planted between April 15 and June 1 at a rate of 3 to 5 pounds of pure live seed – often referred to as PLS – per acre.

“Grazing and haying should be delayed until runners lap or until dormancy the first year,” Lee said. “Once established, it takes approximately 50 pounds of nitrogen for every ton of forage produced.”

Additional information about bermudagrass forage production is available online from OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at http://osufacts.okstate.edu through OSU Extension fact sheet PSS-2583, “Choosing, Establishing and Managing Bermudagrass Varieties in Oklahoma.”