Best Practices

Best Practices for forage stand establishment

This is a general list of best management practices for quality yield.


Seed selection
Start your forage stand establishment off right by only selecting top quality seed that is bred, tested and managed under a stringent Quality Assurance program.

Field preparation
Preparing for a new forage stand should start in the year before seeding. Scouting and controlling perennial weeds before establishment will ensure the quality and longevity of the stand. Herbicide use and potential residues should be monitored. Many herbicides have a residual effect on emerging forages and may minimize successful establishment. The forage species to be used must not be at risk from residual herbicide.

Seeding date
Forage seed is for spring planting only.

Seedbed preparation
Seed must be planted into a firm, well-prepared seedbed that has had proper weed control. A firm seedbed is critical for good soil-to-seed contact and creates an environment to help sustain seed zone moisture as the plant germinates. Newly planted forages need consistent moisture until they emerge. Loose, poorly packed seedbeds often result in reduced emergence or seeding failures as soon as soil moisture conditions deteriorate.

Soil pH and salinity
The pH and salinity of soil can affect the ability of a forage seed to germinate and establish. pH can have the greatest effect on alfalfa, as it germinates, nodulates and develops more readily in soils with pH levels above 6.5. The salinity of soil, measured by the electrical conductivity (EC), can impede the establishment of a forage stand as well. Salinity affects the plants’ ability to draw nutrients and water from the soil; however, some forages are more adapted to saline conditions and can be successfully grown under moderately saline conditions.
Soil testing is recommended prior to forage establishment. Contact your local representative for soil testing options.

Seeding rates
Minimum seeding rates are outlined below.

Depth and packing
The target planting depth for forage plantings should fall within the range specified by soil type guidelines. Proper packing is required immediately after seeding. Forage seeds are generally very small. As a result they are very sensitive to poor seed placement. An emerging seedling must rely on the stored energy in the seed until leaf development is sufficient to support photosynthesis. Due to their small size, forage seeds will not have sufficient reserves to emerge from deep soil depths. A general rule of thumb is to plant seeds to a maximum depth equivalent to 4-6 times the diameter of the seed.

Clay 0.25-0.75 0.5-1.5
Loam 0.50-1.00 1.0-2.5
Sand 0.75-1.25 1.5-3.0
Overall 0.50-0.75 1.0-1.50

One of the main reasons forage establishments fail is poor soil-to-seed contact. Good soil-to-seed contact is required as some grasses may take up to 21 days to emerge.

PURE FORAGE STANDS 1 2 3 4 5 5 Irrigated 6 7 8 (>10" ppt)
Alfalfa 12 10 10 10 10 12 10 10 12
Bird's Foot Trefoil 7 nr 7 nr nr 7 7 7 7
Cicer Milk Vetch 12 10 12 10 10 12 12 12 12
Meadow & Hybrid Brome Grass 12 12 12 12 12 13 12 12 12
Smooth Brome Grass 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10
Meadow and Tall Fescue 8 8 8 8 8 9 8 8 8
Orchard Grass 8 nr 7 nr nr 12 7 7 10
Timothy 5 nr 5 nr nr 8 3 3 5
Annual and Italian Grass 15 nr 12 nr nr 15 12 12 12
NewHy Wheat Grass 10 8 10 8 8 10 10 10 10
Kentucky Blue Grass 6 nr 6 nr nr 6 6 6 6

*nr = not recommended

Zero-till disc openers allow for a reduction in planting rate required because of precision depth control combined with on-row packing. The correct seeding rate may vary with the type of forage seeded to take into account seed size, species characteristics, method of seeding and portion of viable seed. Research has shown that even under normal conditions, only 60% of the seeds will germinate, and of these, 60 to 80% of the seedlings will die the first year. If you factor in drought, weeds, cover crop losses, insects and seedbed factors, these numbers may diminish rapidly.


Companion crops
If companion crops are to be used, they should be planted at no more than 20 lbs./ac. for cereals, 2 lbs./ac. for ryegrass and harvested as greenfeed or silage. Winter cereals are considered too competitive. The Proven Seed forage experts do not recommend the use of a cover crop.

A cover crop may be desired where soil erosion is a potential problem, but standing stubble is generally most effective. Always use a less competitive cover crop species and seed separately from the forages as their target planting rates and depths are usually different.

Insects and weeds
Insects usually do not have a major impact on forage establishment, but grasshoppers can quickly ruin an establishing stand if left unchecked. Grasshopper forecasts are available for your area and if high numbers are expected, chemical control may be required.

Action must be taken to control weeds when required. Forage crops left in production for several years provide a favourable environment for perennial weeds to flourish. Perennial weeds such as Canada thistle and quackgrass can out-compete forage stands and are best controlled prior to planting. Consult with your representative about herbicide options prior to establishment.

When evaluating your forage stand, remember that stand uniformity is more important than total plant numbers. Many of the forage seedlings will tiller or creep into the spaces. Little seedlings form crowns 4-6 inches in diameter. The following numbers are meant as a guideline only and should be reviewed with your representative before making any decisions. The minimum plant counts will vary with the field and environmental conditions.

FORAGE CROP 1, 8 & IRRIGATION 3, 6, & 7 2, 4, & 5
Alfalfa 8 6 5
Timothy 6 5 nr
Pasture (bunch-type) 8 6 5
Pasture (sod-type) 7 5 4

*nr = not recommended

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