COLUMBIA, Mo. – The callers ask a variation on “It’s so dry, should I plant pasture grass seed this fall?"
Rob Kallenbach’s phone keeps ringing.
The extension forage specialist has experience planting grass. And callers find him at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
“Seven calls, it’s not 9:30 a.m. yet.” Kallenbach’s answer: “When it’s time to plant, drill the seed and wait for the rain. The seeds will wait. When you get rain, you’ll have grass.”
Lots of callers think they should wait for rain, Kallenbach says.
He finds that rain delays planting, often as not. Any delay in fall growth lowers chances for a strong stand of grass before winter.
Mid-September is time to plant. Seedlings have time to get up and get growing. Fall rains usually come.
Kallenbach has planted lots of pastures since his first in 1983. “I plant every year, and have had only a couple of minor failures. That’s thousands of acres.”
Kallenbach gains experience planting grass paddocks at MU research centers. Most of his work is at the Forage Systems Research Center, Linneus, Mo., and Southwest Center, Mount Vernon, Mo. It’s part of his research and extension work at the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
The basics of grass seeding are: Get ready first, then plant. He can add lots of tips and cautions to help success.
If the ground is so dry and hard that the drill can’t cut open rows, then wait. Don’t plant if the drill can’t push seed into the ground, Kallenbach says. But that rarely happens.
The forage specialist advocates no-till drilling. The seed goes into ground where all old growth and weeds were killed. That reduces competition for water and nutrients. Also, dead residue slows soil erosion and speeds rain intake.
Most important: Calibrate the drill to the right planting depth. Once planting starts, stop and double-check to see that seeds are planted shallow enough.
“Stop and check. That’s vital,” Kallenbach says. “No drill comes pre-calibrated for your conditions.
“It’s embarrassing to plant only five acres and find that you have planted all the seed you own. Stopping to check prevents disasters.”
Two years ago, in a dry fall, Kallenbach worried himself. He’d planted the first week of September in a bone-dry field. “I didn’t get rain until October. The later it got, the more worried I got,” he recalls. “When late rain arrived, the grass came up. We had a fine stand.”
Kallenbach will be speaking at his plots during a field day, Sept. 25, at the MU Forage Systems Research Center in Linneus. Tours start at 9 a.m. and end by noon. For directions, go to aes.missouri.edu/fsrc/ or call 660-895-5121.
On the phone, Kallenbach says, “Any time you can get the drill in the ground, I say proceed. Mother Nature will take care of you.”
But, he thinks, Mother Nature can’t help you if you don’t take time to calibrate the drill.