Forage Update – May 24, 2016

by Joel Bagg, Forage Development Specialist & District Sales Manager, Quality Seeds Ltd


Forage growth is extremely variable. Cooler spring weather significantly slowed the accumulation of Growing Degree Days (GDD) and has delayed the growth and maturity of alfalfa. Soil moisture levels are variable across the province. Many areas with little rain are dry and have shorter than normal stands. Alfalfa maturity is more affected by reduced GDDs, but grass growth is more affected by the dry weather. Forecasted warmer temperatures and rainfall this week should speed growth and development quickly. Many alfalfa stands harvested last fall are showing less aggressive growth this spring. Some haylage started in the south-west last week, with some at below normal yields. Some older, damaged alfalfa fields are being harvested early and planted into corn for silage. Winter cereal forage and Italian ryegrass have been harvested. New seedings were done relatively early under excellent conditions, but the lack of rain in some areas has delayed germination, growth and herbicide weed control.


Evolution Italian Ryegrass

Most stands of Evolution Italian ryegrass wintered very well and have been harvested the week of May 17th. Managed properly, Evolution yields well with exceptionally high fibre digestibility (NDFD) and nutrient quality. (“Evolution” Italian Ryegrass Forage Options

Evolution Italian ryegrass at the farm of Glen & Curtis McNeil, Goderich, ON. Planted August 13, 2015 after winter barley. Volunteer barley controlled with tillage and glyphosate. Harvested November 2nd with RFQ of 216. Harvested again on May 23, 2016. Will be harvested every 28 days. Nitrogen applied – 60 lbs/ac Sept 3rd, 60 lbs/ac Apr 23rd.


Evolution Italian ryegrass at the farm of Joe Martens, Bryanston, ON on May 17, 2016. Planted in mid-September after corn silage. Harvested May 23rd with an RFQ of 254.


2015 Forage Establishment Challenges

There were some new forage seedings in 2015 that were less than ideal because of the dry spring followed by excessively wet weather in June. However, there are a few management practices that frequently cause establishment problems that are quite evident this spring:

  • Using a cereal companion crop and combining it as grain and straw rather than harvesting it as a forage. Not only does this excessively compete with the forage seedlings for moisture and nutrients, but straw laying for extended time in windrows or not picked up cleanly by the baler damages forage seedlings.
  • Not seeding into a firm seedbed with adequate packing. This is especially important in a dry spring and with summer seedings. A loose, lumpy seedbed dries out quickly, and lumps make the uniform emergence of young seedlings difficult. A firm, level, clod-free seedbed is important for uniform seeding depth and good seed-to-soil contact. (Successful Forage Establishment )
  • Not controlling weeds with herbicide in direct seedings. Broadleaf weeds competing with new forage seedings result in much thinner, weaker forage stands. (OMAFRA Publication 75, Guide To Weed Control )
  • Not controlling volunteer wheat adequately before August forage seedings. Volunteer winter cereals easily out-compete new forage seedings. Volunteer cereals should be controlled with tillage and glyphosate. (Summer Seeding Forages )


Timing 1st Cut

Dairy producers are monitoring alfalfa maturity and haylage harvest will be well underway in some parts of the province this week. Alfalfa stands are quite variable in height and growth stage depending on location, stand health and soil moisture. Dairy producers generally target harvesting first-cut alfalfa haylage at an optimum 40% NDF. This is considered a good balance between the conflicting goals of digestible energy, protein utilization, adequate dietary fibre (rumen function) and yield per acre. Harvesting too late results in lower digestible energy and protein, while harvesting too early results in inadequate dietary fibre and stresses the forage stand. Of course, harvesting too early is better than too late in case an extended rain event occurs. As a source of digestible fibre in TMRs, early cut grasses have nutritional advantages over wheat straw. Early cut grasses typically have higher fibre (NDF) levels than alfalfa, but also much higher fibre digestibility (NDFD), providing fibre for proper rumen function as well as digestible energy for high producing dairy cows on a negative energy balance.

“Scissors-cut” field sampling, overnight courier and rapid laboratory analysis can help predict optimal alfalfa harvest dates. Current results indicate that forage development and maturity is delayed, but grasses are more mature relative to the alfalfa. In mixed stands, be sure to watch the maturity of the grasses when making cutting decisions. “PEAQ stick” estimates of NDF based on alfalfa growth stage as well as crop height are also useful. If practical, delaying harvest of stressed fields will improve plant health and increase yield. (Using Scissors Cutting & PEAQ Sticks To Optimize Forage Quality  


Planting Corn Silage After 1st Cut?

Some alfalfa fields suffering from winter injury are being harvested early to be planted into corn for silage. Be aware that planting as soon as possible and adequate moisture are essential to successful corn silage yields. (Corn Planting Following Early Hay Harvests