With rising feed costs, many producers in Texas and the Southern Plains are considering revitalizing underutilized pasture and rangeland. Renovating this valuable land can help reduce input costs and slow spread of invasive weeds.
According to Larry Redmon, Ph.D., state forage specialist, and Paul Baumann, Ph.D., state weed specialist, both with Texas AgriLife Extension Service, three key steps are required when establishing and promoting growth of forage plants:
1. Select the right forage.
“New stands of forage, whether annual or perennial, require careful attention to species selection, site, fertility and early weed management,” says Redmon.
A wide range of grasses and legumes are available, and each species has its own establishment and growth characteristics, making it more or less suitable for soil conditions, climate and an operation's needs. For example, species vary in how well they accept dry or poorly drained soils and different soil types.
“If you don't choose the right forage, you're starting off in a hole,” Baumann explains. “Planting forage that will thrive in your soil gives it an edge on weed competition.”
2. Nail the timing.
A soil sample should be obtained several weeks prior to the establishment date, Redmon advises. “This allows time to make limestone applications, if needed, and time to apply and incorporate phosphorous and potassium applications into the seedbed prior to establishment.”
Since irrigation is seldom an option, it's critical to plant seed or sprigs and apply nutrients when rain is expected, typically during the spring, and hopefully into a moist seedbed.
“Timely rainfall is essential to establishing forages since rain is the key to releasing nutrients in the soil,” explains Baumann. “If you can plant before a period of rain, you'll provide your seeds or sprigs the boost they'll need to get firmly established.”
Nitrogen fertilizer should be applied only after it is clear the establishment will be successful; otherwise early fertilizer applications may only serve to encourage growth of unwanted weeds, says Redmon.
3. Control weeds early.
The earlier you begin controlling weeds, the faster you'll establish your stand, adds Baumann. “The best defense against weeds is an aggressively growing forage that crowds out the competition, so using best fertility practices at establishment and beyond is essential.”
Even best practices during pasture revitalization won't prevent challenges from grasses and broadleaf weeds. Baumann recommends using a targeted herbicide to control weeds before they become a problem.
If weeds have surfaced, the key, he explains, is to attack them when they're small -- four to six inches tall -- so control can be achieved with less herbicide. “It's best to control weeds at a time of year such as late spring or early summer when you're still getting beneficial rainfall so the forage can respond and take the best advantage of the weed removal,” Baumann adds. “If you wait until the middle of July to control weeds, they'll be much larger and you'll need to use more herbicide, which adds to costs. And even after you control those larger weeds, odds are you're probably not going to get enough rain for the forage grass to benefit.”
This article first appeared in Weed Wise newsletter, a free electronic newsletter from DuPont Land Management, your source for pasture and rangeland management. Sign up today for your free subscription.