Do a stand count and soil test for better forages - Parrish and Heimbecker, Limited

Do a stand count and soil test for better forages

June 6, 2022 | Eastern Canada

We can help manage your forage crop and maximize yield with insect and disease protection too

Whether you’re a dairy farmer looking for excellent quality and high yield, feeding hay to horses or other livestock, or selling hay as a cash crop, it pays to manage your forages.

No matter the situation, the first step to better forage management is to assess what you have. The earlier in the season you do this the better. A fertilizer strategy can start after first cut and still make a difference in yield and quality by the end of summer. It’s worth it to act now.

An initial stand assessment will tell you which plants you have in the field which involves counting plants in square-foot blocks several times in a field. It also should include a soil test which helps produce a fertilizer strategy. A fertilizer application early in the season often helps balance nutrients. After first cut a second fertilizer application could take place followed by scouting for insects and disease. A fall fertilizer application helps the crop overwinter.

Forages need a fertilizer plan

You need to manage fertilitiy to maximize hay yield and quality and to maintain the right balance of alfalfa and grass for your feed requirements.

OMAFRA says alfalfa yield is lost when P soil tests below 12 ppm and K soil tests are below 120 ppm. Adding fertilizer when levels are low can have a significant impact on yield. An older hay field may require a significant amount of fertilizer or manure when it’s time to reseed.

Soil tests should measure soil pH, P, K, and boron, a micronutrient that can test low in forages in Ontario. Test more frequently on sandy soils. It’s better to do relatively frequent testing so you can monitor the soil and add nutrients regularly to maintain optimal levels.

Contact your local P&H location for advice on soil testing location and frequency.

Monitor for insects and disease

Potato leafhopper, armyworm, and alfalfa weevil can reach economic threshold in Ontario. The only way to tell when you should spray is to scout.

A well-timed fungicide spray can increase yield in forages too. Perhaps more important is bunk management and hay storage when considering long-term quality.

We can help

Your forage crop can probably produce higher yield and quality than you think. Talk to a forage advisor at your local P&H for help.