Forage establishment can be frustrating but can be successful if you have a plan.  Forage establishment techniques can vary depending upon forage species, location, soil type, pasture situation and intended use. Good establishment techniques are essential to getting good high yielding forage stands. Let’s look at several reasons why producers can successfully establish forages.  

  1. Soil fertility…  The first step in accomplishing a successful stand is to take a soil sample. Please take soil samples several months in advanced in order to raise soil pH if needed.  The soil test will inform producers about P and K levels in the soil and give research-based fertility recommendations depending on forage crop.  If you would like to get specific SOIL SAMPLE RECOMMENDATIONS then ask your local county Extension agent.
  2. What is the correct forage species to plant???  The first step in determining which forage species to plant is to have an overall forage plan. The producer needs to ask themselves questions such as if they want an annual or perennial forages in their production system.  Does the producer have irrigation?  Is the producer going to use the crop for hay production or graze? 

Information on adapted forages for Georgia is available at  UGA Forages.  A great source of information is the UGA Statewide Variety Testing program.  This program evaluates alfalfa, summer and winter annual grass varieties and their performance in a various yield environments across the state. Producers can also get information on perennial forage varieties in the following UGA publications.

Alfalfa Management in Georgia

The Management and Use of Bahiagrass

Selecting a Forage Bermudagrass Variety

3. Seedbed Preparation…  Good seedbed preparation is a key for successful forage establishment.  If growers are establishing new pastures or hayfields then the soil needs to be level, firm, and free of clods and other debris.  A firm seedbed helps with seed placement, especially with small seeded forages such as alfalfa and legumes.  Producers need to have their final seedbed smooth and free of ridges and depressions, which could affect harvest equipment for years to come.

4. Weed and Insect Control…  County agents often receive weed control during forage establishment. Weeds can be very competitive during establishment, thus they can compete for soil moisture and sunlight. In some cases, weed control measures need to start the year before, especially with perennial weeds such as common bermudagrass.  In some situations, adequate weed suppression can be achieved by reducing or eliminating preplant nitrogen, and/or frequent mowing. Scouting for insects during establishment is a must.  There are several insecticides that be used for pest control.  Information on forage weed management is in the UGA Pest Management Handbook or from local extension offices and in the link below. 

UGA Forages Weed and Insect Control

5. Seeding Rate.   Good seed quality is necessary for forage production.  Producers need to purchase good quality seed because seeding rates are based off good germination rates, seedling vigor, and optimum conditions. Optimum conditions rarely happen in Georgia. Increase seeding rates in less favorable conditions such as over seeding perennial forages or broadcasting seed during establishment. If you are looking for information on seeding rates, seed per pound, seeding depth, and seedling vigor for various forages then go to link below.

General seeding information for forage grasses and legumes

If producers are utilizing legumes in their forage programs please select the correct inoculate for that particular legume.  The publication below is a great reference for forage legumes.

Georgia Legume Species

6. What about sprigging forages??  Hybrid bermudagrasses and perennial peanuts produce very few or no viable seed; as such they must be established from vegetative sprigs (stolons, rhizomes, or stems). A most important consideration for getting a good uniform forage stand with sprigs is obtaining high quality planting material. County agents often get questions about yield potential of both seeded and hybrid bermudagrass varieties.  Hybrid bermudagrass varieties produce 20-50% more forage than seeded bermudagrasses.  If you would like information on bermudagrass sprigging and who’s available to establish it then the information is below. 

How is Bermudagrass established?  Who Can Sprig Bermudagrass?

7. When Do I Plant My Forages?   Planting date is crucial in establishing and keeping good forage stands. Planting early within the recommended planting period can help because the weather might not always cooperate.  Planting warm season species in the early spring can help avoid this problem. Surface soil moisture in the early spring can be more favorable for seed germination during this time. Planting cool season species in early fall is advisable to give plants a chance to become established and not winter-kill if and when subsequent hard winter freezes occur.  Soil temperatures can influence planting dates for forage growers.  Growers can monitor soil temperatures on the UGA Weather Network. 

8. The Correct Equipment.  Forages establishment can be done with a variety of planters and planting techniques. Forages that require shallow seed placement (0-1/2 inch) require planters with the capacity for precision seed placement. If you are considering a small seeded forage species, please think about using cultipacker-seeders and drills that have methods to control seed depth. Broadcasting small seeded species can be successful if there is a good mulch cover or if a cultipacker is used. Producers often ask about establishing forages by broadcasting the seed and then lightly incorporate the seed with disk.  This method can be successful but could result in failure because of potential of burying the seed. If broadcasting is used, the seeding rate should be increased 15-25 percent to help compensate for seed placed too deep for emergence. For small seeded forage species, the cultipacker-seeder is generally superior to the drill for getting good stands.

What about sprigging equipment?  Producers can plant bermudagrass sprigs by broadcasting sprigs and disking them into the surface soil layer, or by specialized sprigging machines.  If producers use commercial sprigging machines, 40 to 70 bushels of sprigs/a is usually recommended. If producers broadcast sprigs then 70 to 90 bushels of sprigs/a may be required for good stands. Please keep in mind that a bushel usually contains about 1000 sprigs while a cubic foot contains about 800 sprigs.

Successful forage stands can happen if producers take some time thinking about a plan.  If you have questions about forages, seeding rates, planting techniques or any other forage related topics please contact your local county Extension agent.