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Summer Forage Production in Mississippi

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May 23, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about summer forage production in Mississippi. Hello, I'm Amy Taylor, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Dr. Rocky Lemus, Mississippi State University Extension Service Forage Specialist. Rocky, after several weeks of rain and delay in getting pastures ready, this week of nice weather might be a good place to start getting summer forage production underway. What are some of the things that producers need to keep in mind to optimize forage production?

Rocky Lemus: Amy, there are several things that producer need to take into consideration. Number one, make sure that nutrient levels are optimum to meet the nutrient needs of the summer grasses. It's time to control weeds and avoid competition with undesirable species and number three to utilizing proper grazing and hay strategies to optimize forage utilization and obtain good quality hay.

Amy Myers: Okay, so how can a producer determine what nutrients are important for forage production?

Rocky Lemus: Careful soil sampling is essential for an accurate fertilizer recommendation. A sample must reflect the average fertility of the field, so analysis, interpretation and recommendations accurately represent the nutrients or mineral status of the soil. A soil sample that can be sent to a Mississippi State University Soil Testing Lab for analysis can be very important to determine nutrient levels. Although pastures can be sampled every two to three years, hay fields should be sampled every year due to higher nutrient removal on the hay.

Amy Myers: Now, what are the important steps that should be taken to have an effective weed control in pastures and hay fields?

Rocky Lemus: There are a couple of things that a producer need to keep in mind. Number one, weeds should be sprayed when they are between four to six inches, and make sure that the weed species are properly identified. Make sure you are not spraying too early or too late. The solution to this is obvious, cower the field and spray the weeds at the proper time based on the stage of growth of the weed. Weed control declines sharply when they are under stress. The plants are merely trying to survive. They are not actively growing and taking up the herbicide in drier conditions. While it might be never too dry to spray, it can be too dry to get good results. In addition to soil moisture, pay attention to wind speed and direction to control off-target drift.

Number two, use calibrated sprayer. Calibration prevents both the waste and expense of over-application and reduced control from under-application. Spray the weeds at the right time with the right rate. Annual weeds in pastures are generally more susceptible early in the season, when there is more growing actively and soil moisture is adequate, and also follow label directions for application and mixing. For ground broadcast applications, apply the recommended rate of herbicide in 10 to 20 gallons of total spray mixture per acre, and also remember that soil residuals activity and plant residue can be a problem. Some herbicide might have planting, grazing or hay restrictions, so be sure to read and observe all label precautions and recommendations.

Amy Myers: Okay, and the grazing season has arrived. How can a producer determine if the pastures are ready?

Rocky Lemus: Take a walk through each pasture and conduct an inventory of the grass, and which species, fences, gates, and water trough utilize rotation of grazing. That means graze the best and leave the rest. Grazing pasture below three inches stresses the plant by reducing the leaf surface, which grasses use to make their own food, thus forcing them to utilize for reserve in their roots. When developing rotations, allow those plants time to recover and replenish the root system.

Amy Myers: And hay production is part of summer forage systems. What can a producer take into consideration to optimize hay production?

Rocky Lemus: Making hay should be based on expected days of winter's implementation, and the number of animals to be fed. Before starting the hay season, it is recommended to develop a hay inventory program to determine how many acres are needed, and what type of fertilization should be implemented. Here in Mississippi state, we have found that in a hay system, over 70% of the biomass is produced between May and mid July. This mean that with good planning, fertilization and cutting interval, a producer can obtain most of the hay needed during this period of time and let animals graze the rest of the time. To achieve this, a producer will need to apply 15 units of nitrogen per cut of hay and harvest in a 28 to 35 day interval. Utilization of this type of system can decrease the amount of acres needed for hay and decrease the cost of commodity feed during the winter time.

Amy Myers: Today we've been speaking with Rocky Lemus, Forage Specialist. I'm Amy Taylor, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Plant and Soil Sciences

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