October is a good month for livestock producers to look at pastures to see what's there and what might need a boost to help improve grazing yield and quality for next year, a Purdue Extension forage specialist says.
Looking at pastures early gives producers time to plan for, and implement, stand improvement and weed control.
"Early fall is a wonderful time to assess perennial pastures and hay fields, because the season is about over and there are still actively growing plants," Keith Johnson said. "It also gives us enough time to get some matters accomplished, such as making plans for soil testing and application of fertilizers or limestone."
A soil test, which gives pH and nutrient information, should be the first step. If farmers have questions about proper soil sampling procedures, they can contact a local Purdue Extension agricultural and natural resources educator or an agribusiness consultant who specializes in soil fertility.
"Some people want to start with seed selection to improve a thin or unproductive forage stand," Johnson said. "But throwing more seed on the ground will not give desired results if they haven't taken care of the underlying problem. They need to do a soil test first if one has not been done in the last couple of years."
In addition to the soil test, he said producers should ask themselves:
- What forages are in the pasture?
- Are weeds increasing and desired forages decreasing?
- What stresses did the stand experience this year?
- Was the pasture overgrazed or has it been overgrazed for a number of years?
- Did the previous fertilization program work?
The answers can help determine if, how and when a pasture should be renovated.
Johnson said the foundation for most pastures in Indiana and the Midwest should be cool-season grasses and legumes. But producers may have the opportunity to use warm-season perennials or annuals in individual fields.
Producers should also be scouting pastures for weeds. Many weeds can be problematic, but producers need to pay special attention to poisonous weeds and perennial weeds that vegetatively propagate, which means they spread by means other than a seed.
"If producers identify weeds that truly are or will be a problem in the future, then they need to get them under control," Johnson said. "Herbicide application could still happen this fall if actively growing vegetation is present and the temperature is warm enough for translocation of the herbicide."
Producers need to look at herbicide labels for specific details and be attentive to grazing and plant-back restrictions.
After soil test results have been received, Johnson said they should also consider adding recommended amendments as soon as possible.
"We like to fertilize actively growing perennial plants with phosphorus and potassium before the growth cycle is done for the season, and that will come to an end soon," he said.
Applying limestone to increase soil pH is still possible this fall, and applying it now will give the soil time to adjust pH over the winter.
If pastures did well this year and there's still a lot of forage growth, Johnson recommended that farmers allow animals to graze to reduce the amount of forage present in the pasture.
"Four inches or less should be left in the pasture for 2013 if overseeding in late winter occurs," Johnson said. "We want seeds to get to the soil surface, not stuck in leftover forage."