By Jeremy Kichler
Colquitt County CEC
Winter annual forages can be very expensive to establish and maintain. Extension budgets estimate that total costs of winter annual forages is around $200 per acre. Is it possible to reduce forage production costs without decreasing winter annual forage yield? The first step is to soil test and follow those fertility recommendations. If producers apply fertilizer and/or lime without soil sampling, there is a chance that they may not be applying enough fertilizer or lime to maximize forage yield. On the other hand, there is a chance the producer could be over applying fertilizer inputs in order to meet forage goals which could result in wasting money.
Soil pH is important to maintain root development and to make sure that nutrients are available to the forages. If soil pH drops below 6.0, nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium become less available which is undesirable. If the soil pH needs to be adjusted up then apply lime according to soil sample recommendations a few months before establishing forages. Soil pH for winter annual forages needs to be around 6.0 according to UGA Soil Test Recommendations. It is recommended to soil sample hay fields every year and pastures once every three years.
If your winter annual forages consist of rye, wheat, or oats then apply about 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre during the growing season. The forages can utilize the nitrogen more efficiently when it is applied multiple times. It is recommended to apply 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre at planting and another 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre in late winter before spring growth begins. If ryegrass is in the mixture then consider another 50 pounds of nitrogen in the early spring for a total of 150 pounds of nitrogen. Ryegrass has a longer grazing season when compared to other winter annual forage grasses so a spring application of nitrogen will help extend the grazing period.
What if I have annual clovers in a mixture with small grains the forage program? If annual clovers, such as arrowleaf or crimson clover, are in the forage program then consider applying 30 to 50 pounds nitrogen per acre at planting. The winter annual grasses can possibly shade out and compete with the clover if higher rates of nitrogen are applied at planting. If the winter annual forage stand contains less than 40 to 50% clover, apply 50 pounds nitrogen per acre in late winter or early spring. If you are overseeding clovers without winter annual grasses into summer perennial forages then no nitrogen is recommended. If clovers are being used in the forage program please use the correct inoculant to start the nitrogen fixation process.
If you have any questions please contact your local county agent.