Hay & Forage Grower - April/May 2020

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April/May 2020

Valuing alfalfa is complicated pg 10 Safe and tasty sorghum pg 17 Riding the big grass wave pg 20 Soil testing for alfalfa toxicity pg 22 Published by W.D. Hoard & Sons Co.

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April/May 2020 · VOL. 35 · No. 4 MANAGING EDITOR Michael C. Rankin ART DIRECTOR Todd Garrett EDITORIAL COORDINATOR Jennifer L. Yurs ONLINE MANAGER Patti J. Hurtgen DIRECTOR OF MARKETING John R. Mansavage ADVERTISING SALES Kim E. Zilverberg kzilverberg@hayandforage.com Jenna Zilverberg jzilverberg@hayandforage.com Jan C. Ford jford@hoards.com

6 Forage stand nitrogen movement is not what you think One of the powers of legumes is to provide nitrogen to grasses. But how exactly does that happen? It may not be what you think.

ADVERTISING COORDINATOR Patti J. Kressin pkressin@hayandforage.com W.D. HOARD & SONS PRESIDENT Brian V. Knox EDITORIAL OFFICE 28 Milwaukee Ave. West, Fort Atkinson, WI, 53538 WEBSITE www.hayandforage.com EMAIL info@hayandforage.com PHONE (920) 563-5551

DEPARTMENTS 4 First Cut 10 Feed Analysis 16 Dairy Feedbunk



20 The Pasture Walk 22 Alfalfa Checkoff

They add income with custom baleage

Jousting with the snout beetle

Do you think you’ve got it tough? This custom baleage business operates with 90 inches of annual rainfall.

This New York dairyman employs an arsenal of practices to combat the destructive alfalfa snout beetle.

32 Beef Feedbunk 33 Forage Gearhead 38 Hay Market Update






















While sitting in a road ditch somewhere in rural Minnesota and taking a picture of a round-bale stack, this bonus photo was captured as tractor and mower-conditioner headed down the road to cut hay on a warm, cloudless day. It’s a scene we’ll soon witness with regularity. Photo by Mike Rankin

HAY & FORAGE GROWER (ISSN 0891-5946) copyright © 2020 W. D. Hoard & Sons Company. All rights reserved. Published six times annually in January, February, March, April/May, August/September and November by W. D. Hoard & Sons Co., 28 Milwaukee Ave., W., Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538 USA. Tel: 920-563-5551. Fax: 920-563-7298. Email: info@hayandforage.com. Website: www.hayandforage. com. Periodicals Postage paid at Fort Atkinson, Wis., and additional mail offices. SUBSCRIPTION RATES: Free and controlled circulation to qualified subscribers. Non-qualified subscribers may subscribe at: USA: 1 year $20 U.S.; Outside USA: Canada & Mexico, 1 year $80 U.S.; All other countries, 1 year $120 U.S. For Subscriber Services contact: Hay & Forage Grower, PO Box 801, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538 USA; call: 920-563-5551, email: info@hayandforage.com or visit: www.hayandforage.com. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to HAY & FORAGE GROWER, 28 Milwaukee Ave., W., Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538 USA. Subscribers who have provided a valid email address may receive the Hay & Forage Grower email newsletter eHay Weekly.

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It’s business as unusual


Mike Rankin Managing Editor

’M NOT Depression Era old, but I’ve been around for a while — call it aged, Medicare eligible, experienced, or whatever you like. Back in my grade school days, we had nuclear attack drills whereby my classmates and I learned the correct method to dive under our desks and cover our heads. Presumably, this would protect us as the three-story brick school building and all of the fourth graders, who were located above us, came crashing down. In the event there was enough warning, though I’m not sure if the principal had his own aircraft radar tracking system or not, we also were instructed on exiting the classroom in an orderly fashion to take up residence in the fallout shelter, which doubled as the boiler room. It was the height of the Cold War, although none of us snotty-nosed kids really grasped the true gravity of the situation in those years that immediately followed the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, we were taught by our parents that it was a good thing to beat Russia in the Olympics. This brings us to COVID-19. Pandemic training has been more of a baptism by fire than a desk-diving experience. Next time, and hopefully there isn’t one, we’ll do better. We’re all trying to figure this thing out as we go, unless you happen to have a virologist in the family. Unfortunately, all of this learning is coming with a steep human and economic toll. There is no production, marketing, and retail business that is nimble enough not to be affected. Diving under desks won’t provide even perceived protection; however, purchasing toilet paper by the semi load seems to ease the anxiety level. It’s the “We’ll wipe it out one way or another” approach. You’ve already read and seen enough about personal hygiene and social distancing. All of Dr. Fauci’s rules apply on the farm, as they do in a city apartment. But I’m not going there. Rather, let’s look at how this COVID-19 situation might impact forage producers, which it most certainly will. First, let’s review where forage production sits in the big scheme of things. It goes something like this: forage–livestock/exporter–processor–wholesaler/ retailer–consumer.

Forage production sits at the front end of the food chain, and plants will continue to grow regardless of what happens down the chain. As of this writing, what’s happening down the chain is not characterized by good news at any level. Dairy farmers have been plagued with low milk prices for the past four years as a result of world dairy stockpiles and trade wars. This was supposed to be a big bounce-back year. Now, many are dumping milk down the drain or onto their fields. Milk prices have tanked. On the beef side, some processing plants temporarily shuttered their doors and market prices have headed south. How long this will last is anybody’s guess, but there will be carnage, even with government payouts. Back to forage. Unlike our brethren who grow fresh fruits and vegetables, harvested forage crops have one important redeeming characteristic — a long storage life without loss in quality. This, of course, assumes the crop is stored properly, pandemic year or not. With storage options, most commercial hay operations should be able to weather this storm if a drop in demand occurs because of depressed markets and/or lower cattle numbers. I don’t anticipate people will be burning haystacks because of a market price lapse. For beef and dairy producers, forage must still be chopped, baled, or grazed. Forage quality will be more important than ever to help offset purchased feed costs during these down markets. Fortunately, harvesting and grazing forage is easily done with more than adequate social distancing. Forage production anchors our ruminant food chain. That chain has been severely battered and will likely remain so for a while, but not forever. Our efforts to produce high-yielding, high-quality forage should not change this year, but there certainly will be a new element of farm and ranch safety involved. •

Write Managing Editor Mike Rankin, 28 Milwaukee Ave., P.O. Box 801, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538 call: 920-563-5551 or email: mrankin@hayandforage.com

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GET XTRA CONTROL AND XTRA QUALITY WHERE IT COUNTS. HarvXtra® Alfalfa with Roundup Ready® Technology can increase your cutting flexibility giving you higher quality or increased yield potential. Conventional alfalfa breeding doesn’t compete with those valuable xtras. Ask your alfalfa dealer about getting HarvXtra Alfalfa with Roundup Ready Technology in your favorite alfalfa seed. ©2020 Forage Genetics International. HarvXtra® is a registered trademark of Forage Genetics International, LLC. Roundup Ready® is a registered trademark of Monsanto Technology LLC, used under license by Forage Genetics International, LLC. HarvXtra® Alfalfa with Roundup Ready® Technology is subject to planting and use restrictions. Roundup Ready® is a registered trademark of Monsanto Technology LLC, used under license by Forage Genetics International, LLC. Roundup Ready® Alfalfa is subject to planting and use restrictions. Visit www.ForageGenetics.com/legal for the full legal, stewardship and trademark statements for these products.

Visit harvxtra.com



Mike Rankin


Forage stand nitrogen movement is not what you think by John Jennings


EGUMES have been used as pasture and hay crops throughout history. They are high-quality forages that improve livestock weight gain, reduce fescue endophyte problems, extend the grazing season, and reduce nitrogen fertilizer inputs due to nitrogen (N) fixation. The unique association of legumes with rhizobia bacteria to fix N is an often promoted but also widely misunderstood process. The total amount of N fixed depends on the legume species and the population in the field. The reported amount of N fixed from full stands by different legume species varies widely. For example, N fixed by hairy vetch ranges from 50 to 150 pounds per acre and for alfalfa the reported range is 128 to 250 pounds per acre (Table 1). Annual legumes such as crimson or arrow-

leaf clover fix N at a higher rate than perennial legumes, but longer growing seasons allow perennial legumes to fix a higher total amount of N. Because of the high potential amount of N available from fixation, legumes are promoted as a source of free N fertilizer. Work done in Arkansas showed that in fescue-clover stands, forage yield was similar across several fertilizer N rates (Table 2). Results like this and similar studies have led to the commonly mistaken belief that legumes fix nitrogen and release it into the soil for use by companion grasses in the mixture. However, legumes do not freely share N with grasses because doing so would create more competition that would threaten the survival of the legume plant.

An expensive process

expensive process for both the legume plant and the rhizobia bacteria responsible for N fixation. The bacteria infect the legume roots, which causes the root to form a nodule where the rhizobia live and do their work. The rhizobia bacteria fix N from air that’s in the soil and the legume gains benefit from the fixed N. In turn, the legume provides carbohydrates and sugars from photosynthesis to the rhizobia. Each organism gains necessary nutrients from the association. Nitrogen fixation directly promotes legume JOHN JENNINGS The author is a professor and extension forage specialist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

Symbiotic N fixation allows legumes to grow in an N-deficient environment. Nitrogen fixation is a biologically

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If the fixed N is in the plant top growth and is not freely shared with companion grasses in the stand, how does it reach grasses and other plants in the sward? There are three primary mechanisms

In hay systems, most of the N-containing top growth is removed so a secondary transfer mechanism comes into play. The second largest pathway of N transfer after grazing is through plant continued on following page >>>

Figure 1: Percent of clover or alfalfa over time in bermudagrass pastures 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0


■ 2009


■ 2010

■ 2012

Potential N fixed/year (lbs./acre)

Value of N fixed @ $0.50/lb. of N


128 to 250

$64 to $125

White clover

75 to 150

$38 to $75

Red clover

75 to 200

$38 to $100

Crimson clover

50 to 150

$25 to $75

Arrowleaf clover

50 to 150

$25 to $75

Hairy vetch

50 to 150

$25 to $75

Annual lespedeza

50 to 100

$25 to $50

Figure 2: Replacing synthetic N with clovers or alfalfa in bermudagrass pastures

Calf BW gain per acre, lbs.

Three modes of transfer

It’s different in hayfields

Table 1. Estimated N fixed by various legume species

Most is in the top growth It is important to note that the root nodules are the factory, but not the N warehouse. Research done in Texas by Gerald Evers showed that up to 90% of the N is in the top growth of annual legumes. In perennial legumes, about 70% to 80% of the N is in the plant’s top growth. Legume top growth typically contains about 2.5% to 4% N, which equals about 50 to 80 pounds of N per ton of forage dry matter (DM). Work done in Virginia showed that a 53% stand of red clover or 59% stand of alfalfa grown with tall fescue fixed enough N for a total DM yield of 4.7 and 5.8 tons per acre, respectively. Top growth of the legumes contained 2.8% to 2.9% N.

ing systems. More of the N is distributed across the pasture at high stocking rates and in rotational systems.

for N transfer. The smallest of these three pathways is through root-to-root contact and mycorrhiza fungi associations. The other two primary pathways are by plant-animal cycling through grazing and by plant decay. By far, the largest transfer pathway is cycling the plant material through grazing animals, mostly aboveground, but also by belowground herbivores. Only a small proportional amount of the N is retained in the grazing animal’s body. Up to 80% to 90% of the ingested N is excreted in the urine and feces. About 50% of the N in the urine is lost through volatilization. Clearly, the system is somewhat leaky and not all the fixed N is captured in the soil. Further, use of the excreted N by grasses is dependent on distribution of the excreta across the pasture. Researchers have shown that only about 14% to 22% of the pasture area is covered by this transfer annually. Grazing management and stocking rate influence distribution. More manure and urine tend to be concentrated near water and shade at low stocking rates and in continuous graz-

Spring legume stand counts, %

growth without the need for N fertilization. Enhanced grass growth is only an indirect effect of N fixation. Plants use N from various sources including snow or rain, which can contribute 5 to 10 pounds of N per acre annually; soil organic matter (OM), which can contribute 10 to 30 pounds of N per acre annually for each percentage unit of OM in the soil; fertilizer or animal manure, which varies by application rate; and N fixed by legumes. When N is applied through animal manure or fertilizer, N fixation shuts down because legumes will use free N from other sources just as grasses do. However, grasses are more competitive for N than legumes. Legumes generally have horizontally oriented leaves, whereas grasses are more vertically oriented. As grasses grow taller resulting from added N, they shade the legume plants. Heavy shade also reduces N fixation rates. So, adding N does not have a direct negative impact on the legume plant, but the net effect is greater competition from the grasses, which crowds the legumes from the sward. A study from Arkansas showed the percent clover in a bermudagrass-clover sod dropped by half for each additional increment of N fertilizer used (Table 3).

800 700 600 500 400 300 200 100 0






■ 2009

■ 2010

■ 2011

■ 2012

■ 4-yr avg

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decomposition. As plants are grazed or harvested for hay, roots die back resulting in sloughed nodules. Normal plant maturation and damage also results in dead crowns, leaves, and stems. These plant parts must decay by action of bacteria and fungi to release N over time. This pathway can be a significant N source in warm-season grass systems where a grass such as bermudagrass is overseeded with annual legumes. Table 2. Yield of fescue-clover in response to N fertilizer Fertilizer rate (N-P-K, lbs./acre)

Mean DM yield (1980-84)










As the annual legume matures and dies in late spring, the plant residue breaks down, releasing N for use by the warm-season grass during summer. A Texas study showed that a combination of winter annual clovers overseeded in bermudagrass yielded as much DM as bermudagrass fertilized with the equivalent of 113 to 142 pounds per acre of N.

Nitrogen fixation takes time There is a lag time after planting for nodulation and N fixation to begin. This period is about three weeks after plant emergence. Nitrogen fixation is lowest during the establishment year Table 3. Effect of N applied to bermudagrass sod on clover percentage N rate (lbs./acre)

White clover stand (%)














University of Arkansas, Huneycutt et al., 1988

University of Arkansas, Spooner and Clary, 1962

for perennials and reaches over 90% by the second or third year. An Arkansas study showed that the percent clover or alfalfa increased over four years when these legumes were interseeded into bermudagrass pastures. Calf body weight gain per acre tended to improve as legume percentage grew over the course of the four-year study, especially for alfalfa, but gains were generally lower in nonlegume treatments where N fertilizer was applied. Interestingly, calf gains per acre dropped drastically during a severe drought year for the N fertilizer treatments but stayed more stable across years in the legume-grass treatments (Figures 1 and 2). Legumes are important forages and reduce the need for N inputs. Knowing how N cycling works in forage systems is critical to making effective use of these forages. An important concept to understand is this: Growing forage from N fixation is a process, whereas growing forage from N fertilization is a one-time event. •

109 million

head of livestock are fed by forages in the US. This is more than the combined population of the four most populated states of the USA.

1/4 of all acres in the US produces forage, for a total of

528 million acres in forage alone.

An acre of forage can prevent

June 21–27, 2020

2 million pounds

of soil from eroding each year.


50 percent

Forages are the most important plants on earth. Forage grasses provide most of the nutrition for cattle, sheep, goats, horses and other livestock as well as wildlife habitat.

of the total land area of the US is occupied by forage.

Forage accounts for about

25 percent

of the total value of agriculture in the US.

A dairy cow consuming 1 acre of forage for a year can produce enough milk to fill a bowl of cereal that is

An effort to raise awareness to the importance and impact of forages.

14’ x 7’. United States dairy farmers use forage to produce

61.4 million tons

of alfalfa was produced by US farmers in 2015. In small square bales, this would reach from the earth to the moon and back again 24 times.

20 billion gallons

28.9 million tons

of forage was produced by US farmers in 2015, which is equal to the weight of 80 Empire State buildings.

of milk each year. It is enough for each person in the US to drink 1 gallon per week for the entire year.

To learn more, visit http://afgc.org Forage facts compiled by the American Forage & Grassland Council

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PUT YOUR FORAGES TO THE TEST Forage growers across the country are invited to participate in the 2020 World Forage Analysis Superbowl. Award-winning samples will be displayed in the Arena Building at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., Sept. 29 - Oct. 3. Winners will be announced during the Mycogen Seeds Forage Superbowl Luncheon on September 30 at WDE.

ENTRIES DUE JULY 10 Standard Corn Silage Brown Midrib Corn Silage

Alfalfa Haylage Baleage Commercial Hay Dairy Hay Grass Hay Mixed/Grass Haylage

Contest rules and entry forms are available at foragesuperbowl.org, by calling Dairyland Laboratories at (920) 336-4521 or by contacting any of the sponsors listed below.

Photo Credit: Krista Ann Photo + Film Co.


$26,000 in cash prizes made possible by the following sponsors:

World Forage Analysis Superbowl organizing partners: Dairyland Laboratories, Inc., Hay & Forage Grower, University of Wisconsin-Extension, U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, World Dairy Expo



Mike Rankin

by David R. Mertens and John Goeser

Editor’s note: This is the first of three columns by the authors who will attempt to address the many issues associated with putting a value on alfalfa hay and haylage. CCORDING to data that was recently released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), there are roughly 1.8 million dairy cows in California. A typical Western lactating dairy cow diet contains about 6 to 10 pounds of alfalfa hay. Hence, California dairy cattle probably consume around 9,000 tons of hay per day, and one could speculate that there is more than $2 million in hay value consumed daily in California alone. Determining the appropriate value on every sold ton of hay is as hot a topic as ever; however, determining the economic value of forage is difficult, especially if using the current set of USDA Alfalfa Quality Guidelines. Grading inconsistencies on the same analysis, or between buyer and seller, may be real because different analytical results measure different characteristics of forage. For example, total digestible nutrients (TDN) and relative feed value (RFV) are often used to value hay, but these are calculated differently. Resulting inconsistencies are typically not due to bad methods, poor laboratory performance, or scientist incompetence in developing hay quality grades. Rather, inconsistencies occur because TDN is derived from acid detergent fiber (ADF) and RFV is derived from both ADF and neutral detergent fiber (NDF). In 1998, the USDA Agricultural Mar-

keting Service (USDA-AMS) established Hay Quality Guidelines that used ADF and RFV to determine quality designations for alfalfa and crude protein (CP) for grasses. The intent was not to determine price or acceptability, but to ensure that USDA-AMS used the same criteria for uniform reporting of prices across the nation. Yet, these grades have evolved into price determinants. By 2002, there was impetus to review the USDA-AMS guidelines for alfalfa hay. Mertens sought to evaluate the relationships between ADF and NDF across laboratories throughout the country to determine if uniform alfalfa hay quality guidelines could be developed for the nation. About 1,200 analyses of alfalfa were obtained from laboratories in 15 states. Following a detailed statistical evaluation, an average intercept was used to derive the regression equations presented in Figure 1, developing a relationship between ADF and NDF.

ADF and NDF are different These equations were used by the USDA-AMS for the national hay quality guidelines. Generally, the ADF and NDF values agree as verified by the high R2 value. As such, TDN and RFV are strongly related as well. Yet, there is considerable variation in the relationship between ADF and NDF, which can cause inconsistencies in TDN relative to RFV.

Some people have suggested simplifying hay evaluation by measuring only ADF, and then predicting NDF. This suggestion is often based on data from one laboratory, but, as seen in Figure 1, the variation between ADF and NDF is considerable, at times varying by 10 to 12 percentage units. Acid detergent fiber was developed as a preparatory fiber for the measurement of lignin; it was never intended to be a measure of dietary fiber. Neutral detergent fiber was designed to separate total insoluble fiber, which is slowly digestible or indigestible, from the neutral detergent solubles that are almost completely digestible by dairy cows. Later, ADF was found to be related to digestibility, and NDF was found correlated with intake. Although ADF and NDF are correlated, their origins indicate that it is not a perfect relationship. The spread in results around the predictive equation suggests that this variation is not random (unexplained) but most likely indicates the true differences in NDF at any value of ADF. That is why we measure both NDF and ADF. They measure different types of fiber, and each type of fiber has a distinct nutritional value. Some perceive the difference between NDF and ADF in alfalfa to be is about 10 percentage units, but this spread pertains to old varieties and when harvested at 40% to 50% NDF. Newer data and the predictive equations indicate that with NDF values of 20, 30, 40, and 50, the predicted alfalfa ADF would be 15.8, 23.9, 31.9, and 39.9, respectively. There are biological and chemical reasons for these differences between NDF and ADF. Young plants have more pectin because it is related to cell wall elongation during growth. Neutral detergent fiber is more efficient in removing pectin, which can contaminate ADF and results in higher ADF values.

Making predictions Nutritionists today make decisions based upon expected nutrient digestDAVID R. MERTENS AND JOHN GOESER Mertens (pictured) is the owner and president of Mertens Innovation & Research LLC in Belleville, Wis. Goeser is with Rock River Lab Inc., in Watertown, Wis.

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Develop your own standards Quality designations are useful for reporting prices, but they are less useful in determining prices or nutritive value. We recommend to determine an agreeable specification(s) with your buyer or seller, ideally from a single agreed upon forage testing laboratory. Use the agreed upon metric for valuation. Understand that in some cases, RFV and CA TDN

ingredients in your rations. Late lactation cows do not have the same intake and energy needs as early to peak lactation cows. Lastly, improve your buying power and decision making by understanding that most hay quality measures are not perfectly interrelated. While the USDA is not likely to update hay grades any time soon, you and your nutritionist can develop an alternative hay valuation approach that predicts cow performance on your farm that is different from the USDA grading scale. Today’s dairy cattle and margin fluctuations demand we identify hidden margin opportunities that USDA hay grades don’t portray. Your nutritionist may guide you toward using newer forage quality measures, such as in vitro fiber digestion measures or summative equations for TDN that include nonfiber constituents in forages. These concepts will be further discussed in a follow up column. •

will not always classify hay the same; in the same way, neither will ADF and NDF always numerically fall under the same hay grade. Beyond ADF and NDF that determine USDA grades, there are other nutritionally meaningful data that need to be considered. For example, make sure your farm is not buying ash (soil). If one hay has 8% ash and another has 10% ash, do you want to pay $200 per ton for 400 pounds of dirt in the higher ash hay? Also, if you’re paying alfalfa hay prices, make sure what you’re buying is pure alfalfa. If ADF is substantially less than 80% of NDF, that may indicate the hay or haylage contains some grass. Remember that the difference between NDF and ADF ranges from less than 6 percentage units for immature alfalfa to over 12 percentage for mature alfalfa. So, make sure to measure NDF and ADF at the very least. Indexes such as RFV or RFQ can be useful in integrating multiple forage quality measures into a single value. However, understand that ADF and NDF depict all, or most, of the quality index with RFV and RFQ, respectively. Also make sure you are purchasing forage that your cows need — ones that complement the other

IN FUTURE ISSUES: August: Valuing hay with today’s advanced feed analysis November: Avoid buying or selling hay based on noise

Figure 1: Relationship between ADF and NDF acrosse 15 U.S. laboratories 45 40


ibility and intake responses. Because fiber (ADF or NDF) is slowly and incompletely digested, traditional quality equations for digestion have used ADF to predict hay digestibility: • California (CA) TDN = 82.38 – 0.7515*ADF • Midwest digestible DM (dDM) = 88.9 – 0.779*ADF. The CA TDN is one of the metrics in the USDA-AMS Hay Quality Guidelines, and the Midwest dDM equation is nested within the RFV equation of the guidelines. Intake potential is equally important, thus, RFV was created to combine digestibility and intake into a single index, with these parameters predicted based upon ADF and NDF, respectively. With ADF, NDF, CA TDN, and RFV in hand, this gives us all of the criteria used in the USDA-AMS Hay Quality Guidelines (Table 1). There are currently more advanced grading and valuation summative equations that calculate TDN more accurately, which will be discussed in a subsequent column. The USDA-AMS Hay Quality Guidelines (Table 1) were created to categorize hay in a concise and uniform way across the U.S. while allowing overlap between quality designations. For example, the low end of TDN for Premium equals the high end of TDN for Good. This was done to show that there is no absolute break point between quality designations. Multiple criteria also cause complications, a TDN of 63 for a hay may qualify as Supreme, but a RFV of 184 for the same hay would qualify as Premium.

35 30 25 20 15









Table 1. 2003 USDA-Agricultural marketing service hay quality guidelines for hay price reporting Acid detergent fiber (ADF, %DM)

Neutral detergent fiber (NDF, %DM)

Relative feed value (RFV)

Total digestible nutrients (TDN, %DM)

Crude protein (CP, %DM)








27 to 29

34 to 36

170 to 185

60 to 62

20 to 22


29 to 32

36 to 40

150 to 170

58 to 60

18 to 20


32 to 35

40 to 44

130 to 150

56 to 58

16 to 18






Quality designation


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A: Bahiagrass field contaminated with brunswickgrass.

Marcelo Wallau

B: Brunswickgrass (left) and bahiagrass (right) seedheads.

Brunswickgrass is ravaging pastures and seed lots by Leanne Dillard and David Russell


ONCERNS about brunswickgrass in bahiagrass pastures and fields began about 15 years ago in Levi County, Fla. It was especially prevalent in areas that were overgrazed, leaving patches of bahiagrass-looking plants that livestock would not graze. These days, brunswickgrass has now become a major contaminant in some bahiagrass seed lots.

A close relative Brunswickgrass (Paspalum nicorae) is closely related to bahiagrass (P. notatum) and dallisgrass (P. dilatatum), and because of this, the plants look

and produces three to four alternate racemes (bahiagrass has only two racemes). Brunswickgrass seeds are slightly smaller than that of Pensacola bahiagrass, and the seed coat has a dark, chestnut brown center. Brunswickgrass grows in a range of soil and climatic conditions. It is very adapted to moderately acid, sandy soils, but also persists in sandy loam and well-drained, light to medium clay-based soils. Because of its drought resistance, it is very aggressive and less palatable to animals when growing in sandy soils, rapidly taking over when desirable species are overgrazed.

Few control options

similar, and both produce similar sized and shaped seed. Recently, reports of invaded pastures have become more frequent, especially in north central Florida, a key region for Pensacola bahiagrass seed production. Although brunswickgrass has similar nutritive value as bahiagrass, it is not as palatable to cattle. Due to its rhizomatous growth habit, brunswickgrass forms patches in fields and quickly expands under heavy grazing, while bahiagrass is not as competitive. Similar to bahiagrass, brunswickgrass is a perennial warm-season grass with long creeping rhizomes, soft leaf blades that are 8 to 14 inches long and about 1/4 inch wide (see table below). Plant height ranges from 8 to 28 inches

Brunswickgrass is a tetraploid, similar to Argentine bahiagrass. Control of this weed may be more difficult because of its higher ploidy level, as research has shown that Argentine is less sensitive to metsulfuron herbicides than Pensacola, which is a diploid bahiagrass. Currently, selective control options for brunswickgrass are limited, especially those that are safe on bahiagrass and bermudagrass. Because of its perennial growth habit, systemic herbicides applied in an integrated approach will be the most efficient means of controlling brunswickgrass. Producers in Florida have observed brunswickgrass control when treating pastures with hexazinone (Velpar, Tide, Velossa) for smutgrass removal. Therefore, University of Florida researchers are currently evaluating application

Comparison chart of brunswickgrass and Pensacola bahiagrass Brunswickgrass

Pensacola bahiagrass

Growing season

April to October

April to October


July to September

July to September


8 to 28 inches

4 to 24 inches

Linear, lanceolate, white mid-rib

Linear, lanceolate, crowded at the base with overlapped keeled sheaths

8 to 14 inches long, 0.25 inches wide, but highly variable

1 to 20 inches long, 0.1 to 0.5 inches wide

Generally smooth, but can be hairy

Smooth leaves and sheath

3 to 4 alternate racemes

2 racemes, Y-shaped

Leaf shape Leaf size Leaf pubescence Seedhead Seeds

Brown-coated, convex, hairy glumes when present

Tan-colored, relatively flat

Seed weight

Estimated 200,000 seeds per pound

Estimated 250,000 to 275,000 seeds per pound

Root system

Long, thin rhizomes

Short, thick, J-shaped superficial rhizomes

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timing and rates of hexazinone. Preliminary results indicate up to 80% brunswickgrass control with applications of 0.5 pounds of hexazinone per acre (1 quart per acre of Velpar L). Improved control has also been observed with higher rates and when broadcast applications are made in late summer compared to spring or early summer. In cases of high infestation, complete pasture renovation that includes nonselective herbicide applications and/or cultivation and crop rotation may be necessary. Relying on mechanical cultivation alone may not solve the problem; it may exacerbate the spread of brunswickgrass through rhizome segments. A combination of mechanical cultivation, herbicides, and crop rotation is a more likely solution since seed survival in the soil seed bank is not believed to be long-term.

A growing seed purity problem During the seed cleaning process, brunswickgrass seed does not readily separate from Pensacola bahiagrass seed, as both seeds are close in size and shape. This has made it difficult for

bahiagrass seed processors to effectively eliminate brunswickgrass in order to meet total weed seed specifications (less than 2%) for marketable seed. It is believed that brunswickgrass is more readily removed from Argentine bahiagrass due to differences in seed size. There have been a growing number of reports of brunswickgrass infestations in pastures around the Deep South, and certain efforts should be taken to reduce its spread. The most effective way is to avoid infestation by using certified seed sources when establishing new pastures. The key to controlling brunswickgrass is to demand seed supplies that are free of brunswickgrass seed contamination. Known as “blue-tag seed,” certified seed has been produced under strict production guidelines that minimize the risk of contamination and then those seed fields and harvested seed lots are inspected by a certifying agency. Currently, there is a large market for “brown-bag seed” in bahiagrass in the Southeast; however, this could result in purchasing bahiagrass seed

contaminated with brunswickgrass. While noncertified is less expensive, the cost associated with managing a brunswickgrass infestation will outweigh the initial difference in establishment costs. The best preventive actions a producer can take to avoid further distribution of this grass are to refrain from harvesting contaminated production fields and to always use certified seeds when establishing new pastures. It is important to remember that large quantities of bahiagrass seed are sold without any field inspections for purity, resulting in the sale of some contaminated seed for use in new pasture plantings. Plan to purchase certified seed from a reliable seed source. • LEANNE DILLARD AND DAVID RUSSELL Dillard (pictured) is an extension forage specialist with Auburn University. Russell is an extension weed specialist with Auburn University.

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by Mike Rankin

Norm (left) and Blaise (center) Bennett custom harvest about 20,000 baleage bales per year. Isaac Johnston (right) is one of two full-time employees.


Mike Rankin

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OME things just make sense. That would be the case for baleage in an area that gets nearly 90 inches of rain annually. It’s in this situation that Norm and Blaise Bennett find themselves. The father-son duo operate a 120-cow Holstein farm in Tillamook, Ore., which is tucked neatly into the state’s Coastal Mountain Range. The entirety of their nearly 300-acre crop base of owned and rented land is devoted to grass hay. The region is simply too wet for long-term alfalfa survival. The Bennett’s Valley Venture Farms, which was purchased by Norm’s father in 1961, is just a part of what keeps this pair busy during the growing season. They also operate a full-service custom baleage service with a client base of 35 dairies. “Although we always did a little custom work, it really started as a major enterprise in 2008,” Blaise explained.

Small drying windows For the majority of their customers, the Bennetts do all of the cutting, swath manipulation, baling, and hauling. “In those early cuttings, the baling windows are usually small,” Blaise said. “Between doing our own hay and that of our customers, scheduling can be a challenge. Over time, I’ve gotten to know our customers’ wants and desires, and I’ve gotten pretty good at making it all work. I sometimes have them scheduled before they even call. Most of our customers have been in long-term relationships with us,” he added. Getting May and June cuttings dry in this part of Oregon can be a struggle, even when the target moisture range is 55% to 65%. The Bennetts use a bacterial inoculant on all of their own baleage and for most of their customers. “We often have to ted every day to keep the grass from going bad in the field,” Blaise said. “With the fields being predominantly grass, leaf loss is less of a concern than with a legume.” The Bennetts run a full line of haymaking equipment. Their mower is a Kuhn GMD series, 32-foot triple mower with no conditioners. They also have two Vermeer TE330 tedders that are used for early cuttings and as needed thereafter inoculant Massey Ferguson rotary rakes are used to form windrows. The backbone of the haymaking

equipment line is two McHale Fusion 3 baler-wrapper combo units equipped with precutters. A Claas round baler, without wrapping capabilities, is used as a backup and for any dry hay that is made. The Bennetts annually bale about 3,000 bales for their own dairy and another 16,000 to 17,000 bales for their custom business. To efficiently move bales off the field, the Bennetts recently purchased an Anderson RBMPRO 2000 Bale Trailer, which gently picks up the bale and puts it on the trailer. “We always try to minimize our labor needs,” Blaise said. “Prior to this upgrade, we used squeeze attachments on our skid steer and tractor. It worked, but it took more people to get the job done.”

Long days Operating both a dairy and a custom baling business makes for some long summer hours. The day starts at 4 a.m. with feeding and taking care of the cows on the home farm. The herd is milked with two robotic milking units that were installed in 2014 — another labor-saving investment. The Bennetts have one full-time employee for the dairy and two full-time workers for the custom baling business. There are also a couple of part-time employees. In addition to the grass baleage that is made for the milking herd, Blaise noted that they also feed about 10

Mike Rankin

Nearly all of the fields that Bennetts custom bale and wrap consist of primarily cool-season grasses.

pounds of alfalfa hay per cow. The hay is purchased from a ranch in eastern Oregon where Blaise worked for one summer after high school. This is a typical feeding protocol for dairies in the Tillamook area, although there are many that chop their grass hay rather than feed baleage. The Bennetts do all of their own trucking. Bennetts’ grass fields are primarily orchardgrass with a small amount of red clover. “We like orchardgrass because it’s easy to dry down and bale,” Blaise said. “Fields are usually reseeded about every 10 to 12 years, and we get three to five cuttings depending on whether the field is irrigated or not. Even though we get a lot of rain here, July and August can get pretty dry.” •

Mike Rankin

The newest addition to the harvest fleet is this Anderson self-loading bale trailer. It helped reduce the labor needed to get bales off the field.

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by Mike Brouk

Don’t skimp on alfalfa quality


ITH tight margins in the dairy industry, we sometimes look to reduce feed costs as a method to improve margins. Since feed cost is 50% or more of the total cost of milk production, it is often a primary target. However, in most cases, higher quality forage is one of the most valuable things we can add to the ration to widen feed margins. If the dairy has the cow comfort, cow health, and management to realize a higher level of production by feeding a higher quality forage, then the feed cost per hundredweight (cwt.) of milk produced will decline, resulting in a more favorable margin.

No substitute for quality One common misconception is that if hay quality is poor, one can simply feed more concentrate and compensate for the lower quality forage. A published research study determined the impact of alfalfa hay quality on milk yield. Some of the results of this study appear in Table 1. This University of Wisconsin study fed diets that contained 20%, 37%, 54%, and 71% concentrate and four different maturities of alfalfa hay. As you can see, feeding more concentrate did not fully compensate for the lower quality forage. In fact, the highest quality forage resulted in the greatest level of milk production. On average, feeding lower quality forage reduced fat-corrected milk production by 13% to 28%.

Even feeding alfalfa hay that was just 10 points lower in relative feed value (RFV) resulted in significant losses in milk production. This study only utilized hay as the forage source. In most cases, other forages will be included in a dairy ration so that the total reduction in milk yield by feeding a lower quality alfalfa may not be as great as realized in this study. However, even slight decreases in milk production may result in significant changes in milk margin. If a dairy is feeding 8 pounds of alfalfa per cow each day, for example, then a ton would feed 250 cows. If the higher quality hay is worth a $40 premium in the market, then the daily feed cost per cow is increased by only $0.16 over feeding the lower quality alfalfa. If milk is worth $0.18 per pound, then less than 1 pound of higher milk production is needed to cover the additional daily feed cost. It is not uncommon for dairies to experience 3- to 5-pound swings in milk production as the result of a change in the quality of the alfalfa hay. While the alfalfa hay is generally less than 15% of the total diet, it still has a significant impact on milk production.

Over a 3-to-1 return More important than simply looking at the feed cost per cow on a daily basis, we should also evaluate the impact on the feed cost per cwt. of milk produced. Let’s assume that the daily feed cost,

Table 1. Change in fat-corrected milk with alfalfa maturity and ration concentrate level Item

Concentrate (%)


Early bloom




Full bloom

Percent of dry matter CP


















4% FCM, pounds per day Ration 1





including the lower quality alfalfa hay, is $4.50 per cow with 80 pounds of milk production. With the higher quality hay, it is $4.65 per cow with 83 pounds of milk production. Feed cost per cwt. of milk produced would be $5.63 with the lower quality hay and $5.60 for the higher quality hay. Factoring in the value of the additional milk production at $0.18 per pound of milk, milk revenue improves by $0.54 per cow daily on an investment of $0.15, offering a return of over 3 to 1. When considering the value of milk production lost due to feeding lower quality alfalfa, it often changes the discussion about the price per ton of hay. In most market situations, feeding alfalfa hay with an RFV of 180 or 200 compared to feeding a lower quality hay with an RFV of 150 will result in higher milk revenues and a lower feed cost per cwt. of milk marketed. Sometimes transportation cost and area market values change these relationships, but this can be a helpful exercise when determining the value of alfalfa hay in the dairy diet. Many times, higher quality alfalfa hay will actually be priced at a bargain compared to lower quality choices. In determining the value of alfalfa, it is more than just the per-ton price. Dairies need to also consider the negative impacts on milk production when purchasing lower quality alfalfa.

A need for consistent quality There is value in consistently producing high-quality hay. Dairies depend on the alfalfa grower to provide accurate analysis and consistent quality. A single load of hay may be fed before the hay analysis is returned. Thus, keeping careful track of hay lots and analysis is an excellent way to improve the relationship between a dairy and an alfalfa provider. • MIKE BROUK


Ration 2






Ration 3






Ration 4






The author is a professor and extension dairy specialist with Kansas State University.

From Kawas et al., 1989, 1990 CP = crude protein, ADF = acid detergent fiber, NDF = neutral detergent fiber, FCM = fat-corrected milk

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Sheep were used to evaluate a new dhurrinfree sorghum-sudangrass at Purdue University..

A safe and tasty forage sorghum by Shelby Gruss


ORGHUM-SUDANGRASS is an important crop worldwide. It has value as a forage resource and is cheaper to grow compared to many other summer annuals such as corn. It requires few production inputs and is drought tolerant, but there is often a fear among growers because of its potential for prussic acid production. Prussic acid is commonly produced within sorghum plants, but prussic acid poisoning of livestock is not very common. Even so, the potential for prussic acid poisoning by feeding sorghum-sudangrass sends many farmers looking for other alternatives. Prussic acid is produced in sorghum from the breakdown of dhurrin. Dhurrin accumulates in high concentrations in young plant tissues, varies in amount depending on the hybrid used, and accumulates under environmental stresses. All sorghum hybrids on the market today will produce prussic acid and must be fed with caution, especially if fed immediately after a frost or drought. Recently, Purdue University researchers created a dhurrin-free (DX) sorghum-sudangrass hybrid. “This could be a really big development, eliminating the fear for livestock producers who want to feed sorghum,” said Keith Johnson, a Purdue forage

extension specialist. However, animals can be picky eaters — if they don’t like a forage, they won’t eat it. So, I, along with Johnson and Mitch Tuinstra, a professor of plant breeding and genetics, conducted a study to test animals’ preference for or against our experimental dhurrin-free hybrid. We also tested preference of the brown midrib (BMR) trait that offers higher fiber digestibility. Past studies show animals favor the BMR trait, which is a component of the experimental hybrid.

Put to the test The experiment compared our new sorghum-sudangrass bmr6 DX to three marketed hybrids as follows: Sweet Bites: a conventional sorghum-sudangrass. Sweet 6: a BMR sorghum-sudangrass. Greentreat Rocket: a BMR sorghum-sudangrass. Using sheep as the test animals, we planted the hybrids in four small plots with four replications and allowed the animals to graze the hybrid they liked best in three grazing cycles. We determined the feeding preferences of the sheep based on the percentage of each plot grazed. Trail cameras documented the amount of time the sheep spent on each plot and we flew a drone each day to track changes over time. Within the first day, we noticed a big difference in the amount of our hybrid

grazed, and by the end of the grazing cycle there was barely any forage left. “The sheep ate the experimental hybrid to the ground, stalk and all,” noted Tuinstra. Overall, data indicates that the experimental bmr6 DX hybrid was grazed at 51%, which was comparable to Sweet 6 and considerably higher than Greentreat Rocket’s 16% and Sweet Bites’ 15% consumption. The trail cameras and drone data easily showed the reduction in plant material left within the plots. Halfway through the grazing period, there wasn’t much leaf material left on the experimental bmr6 DX. Data also indicated that the experimental hybrid was grazed first, but as plant and leaf material significantly declined, the sheep began to select other hybrids as their forage source.

Prussic acid free Lastly, prussic acid and nitrates were tested to evaluate the overall safety of the hybrids. We knew that even if the sheep liked the experimental hybrid, producers would be reluctant to use it if it was not considered safe. The experimental bmr6 DX hybrid turned out to be safer than the three conventional hybrids. In late September, when nights became cooler, prussic acid was found in each of the conventional hybrids. There was no nitrate increase for the experimental compared to the conventional hybrids. We also calculated yields, another indicator of how well producers would accept the new hybrid. The experimental hybrid performed equal to the Sweet 6 and Sweet Bites and had a higher yield than Greentreat Rocket. Overall, we believe bmr6 DX is an excellent option for farmers. It will take the prussic acid fear out of using sorghum as a forage. It is also palatable, at least by the sheep in this experiment. Currently, Purdue and Ag Alumni Seed are collaborating to help move this new dhurrin-free trait to the market so that it can be made available to hay and forage producers throughout the United States. • SHELBY GRUSS The author is a graduate student pursuing her Ph.D. in agronomy at Purdue University. She was the winner of the American Forage and Grassland Council’s 2020 Emerging Scientist competition.

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Jimmy Henning

Additions of nitrogen and potassium drastically reduced broomsedge in this Kentucky hayfield.

POTASSIUM helped turn this hayfield around


OTASSIUM (K) can make a case for the “Don’t get no respect” award among the fertilizer nutrients. Nitrogen (N) gets most of the attention because of its showy results; nothing perks up a hayfield or pasture faster. Calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P) get lots of attention as “bone makers” for Kentucky’s signature thoroughbreds. Even phosphorus gets the “No such thing as bad press” award with its problematic relationship with water quality. Lowly potassium just does not get any respect. Yet, after nitrogen, no nutrient is needed in greater amounts for grass hay or pasture. Essential for proper water relations, disease resistance, and even winterhardiness, potassium is crucial for healthy plants. But when it comes to getting a little love in the fertilizer buggy, potassium is often under applied or not applied at all.

Broomsedge makeover The first step in a sound soil fertility program is a representative soil test. Even if it reveals needs that cannot all be addressed, it is the starting point for a strategic fertilizer application plan. Even so, it is easy for a little inattention to lead to some soil fertility imbalances.

The following farm situation shows how this can happen, and potassium was a big part of the solution. Over a period of years, a Kentucky farm owner harvested hay from a tall fescue field and fertilized primarily with triple-19 (19-19-19). Over time, production on the field faltered and the forage base shifted toward broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus). His county extension agent suggested a soil test, and the results were as follows: pH=6.2, Mehlich P=72 parts per million (ppm), and Mehlich K=52 ppm. It showed all levels were acceptable except for potassium, which was very low. The very low K levels were due to

fertilizing with only 200 pounds per acre of the 19-19-19 fertilizer, which delivers 38 pounds per acre each of N, P (as P2O5), and K (as K 2O) per acre, and even this was not always done annually. The field was cut for hay every year for at least a decade. So, this field was grossly under fertilized for potassium every year, understandably resulting in low fertility for that nutrient. It is easy to under apply potassium to hayfields. Almost 100% of the minerals present in a hay crop are removed from the field. Hay crops remove three to four times as much potassium as phosphorus. Most soils cannot replace the potassium as fast as it is removed,

Figure 1: Effect of K on mixed grass yield, toms/acre Fertilizer treatment, lb./A N, P205, K20

by Jimmy Henning




■ 2019

1.88 1.82




2.75 3.31 3.57



180-40-360 0.00

■ 2018











Tons dry matter per acre over 3 harvests

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Figure 2: Bontanical composition Nov. 2019 17

N-P205-K20, lb./A


83 31





■ Cool season grass ■ Broomsedge









180-40-180 180-40-360

Figure 3: Effect of P and K on % clover in July in 2018 and 2019

12 100









Percent of dry matter

and continuous haymaking without adequate nutrient replacement will severely reduce the available potassium in the soil. The farmer agreed to let us conduct a replicated fertilizer application trial on this field, starting in the spring of 2018. Fertilizer treatments included all combinations of 180 pounds per acre of N (three applications of 60 pounds each), 40 pounds per acre of P2O5 (spring applied), and either 180 or 360 pounds per acre of K 2O. The high rate of potassium was split between spring and fall. These were compared to a 38-38-38 (N-P2O5 -K 2O) and 0-0-0 treatment. All treatments were randomized and replicated four times. The results were dramatic. Annual yields for the plots receiving nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium were over 2 tons per acre greater than the unfertilized plots in 2018 and 2019 (Figure 1). The potassium addition alone was responsible for half of the yield boost. By the end of the second year, the proportion of tall fescue in fall botanical separations went from 17% in the unfertilized control to 100% at the highest rate of nitrogen and potassium (Figure 2).

14 10





30 40 50



■ % Clover 2019 ■ % Clover 2018

from having its full yield-enhancing effect. Third, getting phosphorus and potassium fertility to optimum levels on unimproved forage fields can greatly stimulate clover, even when it has not been seeded recently. Yes, some of the levels of fertilizer used were high, but not unreasonable. These fertilizer rates would be expensive, but not more expensive than killing a field and starting over. The positive effects and payback were seen in the first year.

So, maybe it is time to give potassium a little more respect as a component of a complete fertilizer program. • JIMMY HENNING The author is a professor and extension forage specialist with the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

More clover Fertilization had an unexpected benefit. Plots receiving phosphorus and potassium, but no nitrogen, had a marked improvement in the percentage of red clover (visual basis, Figure 3). This clover was all volunteer, since no red clover had been overseeded on this field in over a decade. There are many takeaways from this trial. First, proliferation of broomsedge is not only a low pH issue, it can also be due to low fertilization with nitrogen as well as potassium. Second, low potassium will prevent nitrogen fertilizer

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©2020 Forage Genetics International. America’s Alfalfa®, HarvXtra® and Traffic Tested® are registered trademarks of Forage Genetics International, LLC. HarvXtra® Alfalfa with Roundup Ready® Technology and Roundup Ready® Alfalfa are subject to planting and use restrictions. Roundup Ready® is a registered trademark of Monsanto Technology LLC, used under license by Forage Genetics International, LLC

April/May 2020 | hayandforage.com | 19

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by Jim Gerrish



VERY spring, graziers find themselves frustrated trying to keep cool-season grasses in their pastures from heading out. Plant maturity is the top factor affecting pasture quality and palatability. Livestock performance and contentment are directly impacted. Then we spend the next month on the tractor mowing excess growth and wondering what we could have done differently. Can we do something to change this annual race toward overgrown, headed-out pastures? Yes, and it all starts with a better understanding of how grasses grow.

Grasses differ Most cool-season grasses only produce seedheads during their first spring growth cycle. Tillers have to go through winter conditions (vernalization) to induce seedhead development. The signal for cool-season grasses to produce seedheads in spring is a longer day length (photoperiod). In contrast, warm-season grasses head and flower in response to accumulated heat units. It doesn’t really matter how relatively cool or warm the temperature has been for cool-season grasses. At any given latitude, grasses head at essentially the same time every

year because the heading trigger is day length, not temperature. Once an individual tiller produces a seedhead, it is done. No new leaves are produced once the seedhead has appeared. Any new grazable forage growth comes from new tillers. Generally, those new tillers were initiated in spring and have not undergone vernalization, so they will not head out until the following year.

No spring nitrogen With this basic understanding, we can come up with some strategies to reduce the likelihood of having overgrown, over mature pastures after just a month of growth. The first step is to not fertilize pastures in spring with nitrogen. For those producers still using spring nitrogen applications, all that does is accelerate and accentuate decline in the nutritive value of spring forage. If you are going to use nitrogen fertilizer, do not apply any until after 45 to 60 days of grazing. This will allow most of your applied nitrogen to support growth of new spring-initiated vegetative tillers rather than just growing stems and seeds. Rather than using nitrogen fertilizer at all, growing grass-legume mixtures is generally a lower-cost approach to pas-

Jim Gerrish

BIG GRASS WAVE THIS SPRING ture production. I generally suggest 30% to 40% of total forage production coming from legumes. Legumes tend to reach maturity at a later calendar date than do cool-season grasses. Also, legumes maintain a higher nutritive value later into maturity than do the grasses. The bottom line is that peak yield comes later for grass-legume mixtures compared to nitrogen-fertilized grass monocultures, so you have a longer window of time to effectively manage the spring flush of growth.

Graze early and fast The grazing strategy we have used to minimize the effect of an explosive spring flush is to get across all of our pastures twice in the first 45 to 60 days of the growing season. We move our cattle every day and have been doing so for over 30 years. When we start our first grazing cycle of the spring on new JIM GERRISH The author is a rancher, author, speaker, and consultant with over 40 years of experience in grazing management research, outreach, and practice. He has lived and grazed livestock in hot, humid Missouri and cold, dry Idaho.

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New tillers arise Once the plant apical growth point has been removed, new tillers can be initiated, and those tillers will provide vegetative growth later in the growing season. We have used this approach successfully in both Missouri on high natural rainfall pastures and on irrigated pastures in Idaho. In Missouri, we dealt with a lot of endophyte-infected fescue, and this was a good approach to reduce fescue toxicity as well as the competitive advantage tall fescue is reputed to have. Through grazing management, we changed pastures that started with more than 80% fescue and reduced the fescue content to less than 30%. Natural species diversification followed, including numerous native warm-season grasses. In Idaho, with much later spring growth initiation due to our more northerly latitude and high elevation, the window of time from the beginning of growth to heading is much shorter. Fortunately, the cooler temperatures also preserve higher forage quality later into maturity, so we are still able to accomplish our objective of seedhead reduction. We just have to ask the cattle to eat some more mature forage by midway through the second grazing cycle. When using this strategy, we have been able to reduce seedhead production to just 10% to 20% of tillers that were vernalized over winter. I will emphasize that we do not use nitrogen fertilizer, and we try to maintain a strong legume component. The spring flush is manageable, you just need to have a plan. •



OMETIMES new machinery technologies solve one problem but create a new one. That might be the case when it comes to disc mowers, which have largely replaced sickle bar mowers on most haymaking operations. “One of the issues that has developed with disc mowers is the tendency for producers to cut their fields very short,” says Gary Bates, director of the University of Tennessee Beef and Forage Center (UT-BFC). “It isn’t unusual to see a 1- or 2-inch stubble height after a producer has cut hay with one of these (disc-type) mowers,” he adds. Bates points to numerous research studies that show stubble height has a direct influence on the persistence of cool-season grasses such as tall fescue or orchardgrass. “The recommendation from these studies is to leave at least three inches of stubble,” Bates notes. “Cutting below that height will reduce the persistence of the stand, shortening its productive life.” Many cool-season grasses store carbohydrates in the lower 2 inches of the stem. If cut below this height, especially on a consistent basis, regrowth is impaired. In addition to removing carbohydrate

reserves, a low-cutting height also removes more photosynthetic leaf area. This further impedes the plant’s ability to regrow quickly. Over time, stand persistence and productivity will suffer. “I have been asked several times why tall fescue and orchardgrass fields don’t presently last as long as they did in the past,” Bates comments. “Part of that could be simply due to our memories. Things often seemed better in the past compared to current conditions. But a lot of it is due to how close a field is cut during hay harvest,” he adds. Bates says that one of the best checks a producer can make is that of residual cutting height. He suggests no less than a 3-inch stubble for grasses such as tall fescue and orchardgrass. For taller grasses like sorghum-sudangrass and native warm-season species, leave 6 to 8 inches of residual. The same grass cutting height rules apply for alfalfa-grass mixtures. If you plan to keep grass in the mixture, cutting height may have to raised compared to pure alfalfa stands. There really are few downsides to a higher grass cutting height. More low-quality stem is left in the field, regrowth is hastened, stand health and long-term productivity are preserved, and the risk for forage soil contamination is reduced. •

Mike Rankin

growth, we will begin when grass is between the 2 and 3 leaf stage. We give fairly large areas and expect to make the first cycle in just 20 to 25 days. Utilization rate is low as we are just trying to get a bite off most plants. We slow down on the second cycle by giving smaller areas while taking 25 to 35 days to get around. Our objective on this cycle is to take a little deeper bite to remove elongating stems. When undeveloped seedheads are being elevated from the base of the plant, they are highly nutritious and palatable. As we make paddocks smaller and raise stock density, the likelihood of grazing stock removing undeveloped seedheads is high.

For more information, visit www.americangrazinglands.com. April/May 2020 | hayandforage.com | 21

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Your Checkoff Dollars At Work

Soil testing for alfalfa autotoxicity Hay & Forage Grower is featuring results of research projects funded through the Alfalfa Checkoff, officially named the U.S. Alfalfa Farmer Research Initiative, administered by National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA). The checkoff program facilitates farmer-funded research.

Kim Cassida


ECENT Alfalfa Checkoff research may lead to a quick soil test indicating whether farmers can replant alfalfa on winterkilled or terminated acres without it suffering from autotoxicity. “‘Can I replant my alfalfa yet?’ is one of the most common questions I get,” said Kim Cassida, the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension forage specialist who is working KIM CASSIDA to develop a soil Michigan State bioassay for alfalfa $29,738 autotoxicity. The current recommendation for her region — citing it may take two weeks to two years for autotoxicity to fade before replanting alfalfa — hasn’t offered a helpful answer. “It leaves farmers in limbo, reluctant to risk expensive seed on trial and error, and may contribute to decline in alfalfa acreage if it seems less risky to just grow something else,” she pointed out in a research report. Autotoxicity, Cassida said, is a form of allelopathy, in which one plant can affect another through production of a compound or compounds. Essentially, autotoxicity can keep alfalfa seedlings from germinating and cause permanent damage — and lifetime yield reductions — to root systems of seedlings that appear to have established successfully. Cassida hopes the soil test or bioassay will be available to farmers within the next couple of years. “Say a farmer had a field that had winterkill and wanted to know if they could go out on that field right now and replant. He sends in a soil sample, we run the bioassay, and then, within a week, he has an answer back that there is a lot of autotoxicity in the field or it will say everything is fine,” she said. “It’s not going to give a degree of toxicity. But that’s all the information he needs to make a decision of whether or not to plant that field right now.”

Alfalfa seedlings, grown in a half-inch of soil on top of agar in see-through flasks, exhibited abnormal, twisted root growth, which may be an indicator of autotoxicity in the soil.

With Alfalfa Checkoff funding, she and Erin Hill, an MSU weed science diagnostician, began using a soil-onagar method in 2018, planting seeds on a half-inch of field soil on top of clear agar in a culture flask. The method detected alfalfa shoot and root growth differences within four to five days; its results were validated by greenhouse studies. What the researchers still need to validate is that those differences are definitely due to autotoxicity and not root disease or some other factor. “Unprecedented rainfall in 2019 may have leached some autotoxin out of the

soils,” Cassida said. “For the initial work, we were digging soil samples in a monsoon. If we had a drier year, I think it might have been easier to detect differences.” Cassida compared autotoxicity in soils from alfalfa stands of various ages, in different soil types, with different termination times, and using differing genetics. She saw more root development differences due to different alfalfa varieties, indicating varieties differ in their tolerance to autotoxicity. “We could also have different degrees of tolerance of the toxicity in the seed planted,”

PROJECT RESULTS • The soil-on-agar (SOA) assay was able to detect soil-based differences in root development of alfalfa seedlings. • The SOA bioassay was able to detect differences in root development between alfalfa varieties grown in the same field soil, seed varieties used in the bioassay, stand age, and time since termination. • Greenhouse-grown plants confirmed root development trends predicted by SOA assay.

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she said. That may mean the bioassay would require use of test seeds from the same variety that will be planted. “We have quite a bit more work to do,” Cassida added. Many more soils from a variety of environments, including dry ones, are and will be tested before Cassida considers the bioassay to be fully validated and ready for farmers. “I think we are going to have winterkill again this year, so we are probably going

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to have people trying to re-establish fields that maybe they shouldn’t. I hope to get soil from some of those fields and then follow up and see how the stands are. We’re going to do more greenhouse work, too,” she said. A protocol for handling soil samples will also need to be developed. Checkoff funding helped generate additional state money to continue the research, and she also plans to apply for future funding from the Alfalfa

Seed & Alfalfa Forage System Program, established through efforts of the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance and administered competitively by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Her goal is to have a working soil test, plus a protocol in handling soil samples, within the next two years. For more on the research, visit https:// www.alfalfa.org. •

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Mike Rankin

Snout beetle larvae can wreak havoc on alfalfa roots.


SNOUT BEETLE by Mike Rankin


TANDING outside the east end of Bruce Dimock’s freestall barn, you can look out over a stretch of about 5 miles and view the waters of Lake Champlain. Dimock’s dairy farm is located in the northern reaches of New York state, nearly surrounded by the Adirondack Mountains. They call this area the North Country, and it’s here that three generations of Dimocks milk 320 high-producing Holsteins and farm 690 acres. Bruce’s parents, Don and Martha, who still help on the farm, bought the place in 1971. It’s a unique environment to raise forage crops; in fact, so unique that farmers in the region can claim their own alfalfa insect pest — the alfalfa snout beetle.

Virtually all of the crop acres on Dimock Farms are harvested for forage. “We have outgrown our acres,” Dimock noted. “So, we’ve had to implement some double-crop strategies and be a little creative. This makes us more risk averse in the event we have some alfalfa winterkill.” In essence, a lot of crop decisions made by Dimock somehow circle back to limiting the impact of the alfalfa snout beetle.

Small area, big damage The alfalfa snout beetle was first recognized as a problem in alfalfa during the early 1930s. These days, you can find the beetle infesting alfalfa fields in portions of nine northern New York counties and small areas of Ontario, Canada. Snout beetle adults are mottled gray,

about 1/2-inch long, and don’t fly. They lay eggs from late May to early June below the soil surface in alfalfa fields. Once hatched, the small larvae begin feeding on alfalfa roots, moving from laterals to the taproot and growing in size. Come winter, the large grubs overwinter in the soil. During the following year, the grubs will pupate, and the adult emerges but remains in the soil until the following spring, starting the cycle over again. Elson Shields has dedicated a majority of his long career to finding a means that will hold the alfalfa snout beetle to subeconomic levels. In the 1990s, the Cornell University entomologist finally hit on the discovery of insect-attacking nematodes that prey on snout beetle larvae; it was learned early on that insecticides were ineffective. After years of trial and error, a sys-

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Slow but steady progress Dimock has been inoculating his fields with nematodes for the past seven years. “It’s a slow process,” he said. “We’ve gotten quite good at seeing signs of damage. You start to see yellow leaves late in the growing season, then I take my shovel out in the field and start digging plants. The taproot of a damaged plant looks like someone took a small ice cream scoop to it. In severe cases, the taproot will be eaten to a nub,” he added. Dimock continued, “In the fall, you can watch to see where the crows congregate in alfalfa fields. They like the larvae and will pull damaged plants right out of the ground. That continues through winter.” The Empire State dairyman purchases his nematodes from Mary DeBeer. DeBeer was trained on how to raise the nematodes and works with her father, Ron, at DeBeer Seeds and Spraying in Moira, N.Y. Dimock built his own dribble spray rig that he mounts on a Gator to make his applications. Dimock introduces the nematodes to his fields right after the first cutting of a new seeding. This needs to be done on a cloudy day, late in the day, or right

before a rain to prevent the nematodes from being exposed to too much ultraviolet sunlight, which can kill them. Once applied to the soil, they will remain there indefinitely. Dimock doesn’t spend much time pouring through alfalfa variety seed catalogues. “We really have gotten to the point where we only plant one variety,” he said. That variety is Seedway 9558SBR, which was originally developed and released by Cornell University after plant breeders started making selections for snout beetle tolerance in 2003 and went to market 10 years later after seven cycles of selection. The unique variety has a branching taproot and is well-adapted to the northern New York environment. Even when planted, however, it has to be done in concert with nematode applications for best results because the level of resistance in the variety to snout beetle is only moderate. Work continues by Cornell plant breeders to improve the levels of resistance. According to Shields, the current experimental selections offer much improved snout beetle tolerance.

Mike Hunter, Cornell Extension

tem is now in place whereby farmers and ag crop input providers can purchase and apply biocontrol nematodes to infected alfalfa fields. According to Shields, about 25,000 acres of cropland have now been inoculated with the nematodes, and the number continues to rise by about 2,500 to 3,000 acres each year. The total land base infested with snout beetle is about 500,000 acres. “When fields are inoculated a single time with biocontrol nematodes, the snout beetle disappears as an economic pest within a couple of years,” Shields said. “Stand life more than doubles. Once a field is inoculated, the nematodes are persistent through the alfalfa and corn rotation where they also can reduce corn rootworm densities. Then, they are still there when alfalfa is rotated back into the field,” he added. Biocontrol nematodes move about 3 feet per year on their own but will move with any movement of soil on the farm. A single tillage pass will move them 100 yards or more. Alfalfa snout beetles are moved by any equipment that moves soil. “Alone, they can walk a couple of miles looking for new fields,” Shields said.

Alfalfa snout beetle adults lay their eggs from late-May to early June.

A focus on forage Although the alfalfa snout beetle is always on his mind, Dimock is also laser-focused on his overall forage program. Along with his wife, Mary, and son, continued on following page >>>

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Mike Rankin

Sam, their goal is to harvest top-quality forage in many different forms. “The better the feed that we can grow, the less we have to buy,” Dimock said of the fact that all grain and premixes are purchased. He samples and analyzes all of his forages as they go into storage and again as they’re being fed. Meticulous crop records are kept of all inventories, including what is stored in each of his seven bunker silos (plus one pile) from the perspective of harvest dates and hybrids or varieties. A tough alfalfa winterkill year in 2019 forced Dimock to reduce alfalfa in his dairy ration from 40% to 30% of the dry matter forage being fed. “We put in 130 acres of new alfalfa seedings last spring instead of our usual 60 acres,” Dimock said. “Among other things, snout beetle damage predisposes alfalfa to winterkill. To help offset the winterkill situation, we planted a field to brown midrib sorghum-sudangrass, which we were really happy with.” Dimock establishes alfalfa using an oat-pea mixture as a companion crop. Like most Northeast dairymen, he seeds an alfalfa-grass mix, using a late-maturing orchardgrass, fescue, or reed canarygrass as the grass component. Alfalfa is cut three or four times a year, usually taking a first cutting around May 20. He normally gets two good alfalfa production years following the seeding year, then the third year is mostly grass production because of the snout beetle issue. Dimock also has to spray for potato leaf hoppers but does not generally have a problem with alfalfa weevils, being in far northern N.Y. Hayfields are cut and laid into a wide swath. Most of it is chopped, but Dimock still makes about 5,000 small square bales each year, which are used for calves and sick cows. “I really like those later cuttings of orchardgrass for dry hay,” he noted. Dimock harvests the dry bales using the Steffen hay system and moves bales with grapples. In addition, grass hay is chopped dry and stored in the commodity shed, where it used as a fiber source in the dairy ration as needed. Forty acres of monoculture reed canarygrass is also harvested for dry cow feed.

Mary and Bruce Dimock have been inoculating their alfalfa fields with biocontrol nematodes for the past seven years.

that he will plant winter rye on his sandier ground to help build organic matter and boost forage inventories. “We grow 90- to 100-day hybrids with high digestibility,” Dimock explained. “About one-third of the acreage is brown midrib (BM1), which is stored in a separate bunker and fed only to the high-producing cows and close-up dry cows.” Dimock will no-till corn in 30-inch rows on his sandier acres. “We’ve had really good performance from Pioneer’s AQUAmax trait on our more droughtprone, sandy soils,” he noted. “We are

also one of the few farms in the area that still cultivates and, at the same time, incorporates liquid nitrogen fertilizer. We use a presidedress nitrogen test to determine appropriate rates.” Corn silage yields for Dimock range from 18 to 22 tons per acre at around 63% moisture. His feed consultant monitors kernel processing (KP) scores throughout harvest. He usually is able to achieve KP scores in the upper 80s. Dimock uses a Lactobacillus buchneri inoculant on the BM1 corn silage because it gets fed out slower, making it more prone to aerobic spoilage. Other corn silage and his alfalfa haylage gets inoculated with a homofermentative lactic acid inoculant. “With a shorter growing season and the alfalfa snout beetle, I guess we have our unique challenges here,” Dimock said. “Of course, every farmer has burdens to bear and overcome. We are really fortunate to have excellent nutritional consultants and crop advisers from Champlain Valley Agronomics, and we try to take full advantage of their expertise. We also have the Miner Research Institute not far away. That facility and its people are a gold mine of information.” The alfalfa snout beetle will continue be a challenge for Dimock, but because of the dogged persistence of one Cornell entomologist, a grub-loving nematode, and the cooperation of farmers and ag retailers in the region, its impact on alfalfa production declines with each passing year. •

Mary Dimock merges one of the farm’s alfalfa fields. “The better feed we can grow, the less we have to buy,” Bruce noted.

High-cow brown midrib Alfalfa fields are rotated to corn for four to five years. Dimock has both sandy soils and heavier loam soils. It’s during the corn years of the rotation

Mike Rankin

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Andrew Eddie

There’s no one recipe for growing timothy by Andrew Eddie FTER a tumultuous 2019 growing season with weather, tariffs, and constantly changing markets, the need to become more efficient and diversified is key. In the West, specifically Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, timothy production is one means of doing this and is a major forage product that gets exported to countries like Japan and Saudi Arabia. Forage producers strive to grow the highest quality product while also making a profit on the crop they are growing. A timothy hay enterprise is no different. Growers must balance input costs with potential returns while dealing with wide swings in market prices and demand. I sat down recently with the director of research from a local fertilizer supplier, and we began to discuss the complex nature of a timothy crop when striving to get the best quality. Two of the reoccurring themes during the discussion were about proper plant nutrition and timing.

Don’t skimp on nitrogen The proper amount of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) is paramount to growing a high-yielding

crop. One tool that growers can use to help the plant remain productive and healthy is a nitrogen stabilizer. As with all grasses, nitrogen is an essential nutrient for timothy if optimum yields and quality are to be achieved. Nitrogen stabilizers extend the availability of nitrogen to the plant during peak growing stages. All plants need nutrition during their entire growing process, but timothy hits its peak nutrient need when transitioning from vegetative growth to boot and heading stages. During this period, the plant demands a large majority of its needed nutrients. If these nutrients are not available in the soil, the plant pulls stored nutrients from its corm, which is a bulblike structure at the base of the stem and is the plant’s primary nutrient storage structure. When the plant has to rely on its corm for nutrition too early, it’s thought that this is a contributing factor to brown leaf (dead leaf) at the bottom of the plant. The biggest detriment to forage quality for a timothy crop is brown leaf. Buyers generally grade timothy primarily on color as well as head and stem size, so brown leaves present a major marketing problem. As of now, there is no one specific cause of brown leaf that is known. The current thinking is that it could be the result of a fungus, lack

of sunlight caused by overcrowding, unmet nutrient needs, herbicide damage, or a combination of all of these factors. There are some studies currently being conducted to document whether or not common timothy herbicides are causing injury to the plant and contributing to brown leaf. Unlike alfalfa, timothy will exhibit plant health issues relatively quickly, sometimes even overnight. When scouting a timothy field, you can easily spot problem areas where fertilizer may have been under or over applied, there was an herbicide skip while spraying, or there was a fertilizer application miss.

A yield-quality trade-off As with most forage crops, timothy also offers the age-old yield or quality trade-off dilemma. In the forage industry, we are paid on the basis of both tonnage and quality. Theoretically, you could go for high tonnage and decent quality and get paid the same as you would if you went for top quality with good tonnage. Often, the end market and your ability to cover input costs dictates the most profitable approach. For our operation and many others, we strive to grow the best quality product that we can while being efficient with our nutrient program to get a healthy balance of quality and tonnage. There is a huge pride factor when customers keep coming back because the quality of your timothy crop is consistent from year-to-year. There is no one right answer to get the best quality and tonnage out of a timothy crop. Every grower has to develop a production protocol that works best for their farm. Timothy, like many grasses, performs differently depending on the environment. There is no one-size-fitsall program. You can even run the exact same production program on two fields located right next to each other and achieve completely different end results. In the end, each timothy grower must experiment and find those production practices that result in the best product for their market. • ANDREW EDDIE The author is a commercial hay grower in Moses Lake, Wash., and has his own advertising business.

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Horses are getting fat — hay growers can help by Natalie Shaw


OST forages produced for horses are not analyzed for nutrients, and it’s understandable. For starters, many growers and distributors will not have the same lot and/or field available for long enough to warrant the hassle. It may be the extra time and expense, but also horse owners don’t often ask for or are interested in seeing a forage test. So, why test your forage products? My simple answer is that the equine industry is changing, and with it, significant margin-widening potential for hay producers. The more complicated answer is that horse owners are becoming more nutrition savvy, spending more money, and expecting more from their forage products than ever before.

Not all horses are equal In order for a forage resource to be successful at any equestrian facility, it’s up to the grower/distributor and horse owner/barn manager to make a good match. This optimizes not only customer satisfaction, but also horse health and the bottom line. If you are looking for a competitive edge in the equine marketplace, you may want to consider testing your forages for calories

and carbohydrates. Let’s talk about why these two values are so important. The first reason to test your forages is to ensure the right fit for your customer, and that means understanding its relative caloric density, which is also known as the digestible energy. Horses vary considerably in their activity level, size, metabolism, and living conditions. Some horses gallop for miles at the upper echelons of their sport while some get led around with children on their backs during weekends. Obviously, these horses are on extreme opposite ends of the calorie requirement spectrum. More importantly, for every existing horse owner, there is a unique way of providing horse care. Some owners may prefer to leave horses out on large pastures 24 hours per day, other horses live primarily in stalls with small turnouts, and most are provided with some combination of small pastures and smaller paddocks. Horses also live in vastly different climates and environmental conditions across the U.S. Horses’ forage needs are extremely variable, unlike dairy cattle, so, consider your primary demographic when marketing your forage crop.

Horses are getting fatter One evolving change for forage growers to consider is the rise in equine obesity, its implications to equine health,

Mike Rankin

It’s now estimated that 20% of the U.S. horse population is obese. Low-energy hay can help solve the problem.

and how we feed fat horses. Today, nearly one in every five U.S. equines may be at risk for complications from obesity. There are many possible factors contributing to the rise of equine obesity, but urbanization is at its heart, including greater confinement, less exercise, and higher planes of nutrition. Even as horses get fatter, they are also living longer (well into their 30s and even into their 40s) and requiring high caloric density, which means the scope of forage needs has broadened. A relatively low-calorie (not low-quality) hay may be just the right forage for overweight or obese horses, but insufficient for elite performance or geriatric horses. Therefore, do not “undervalue” your forage that may have been cut a little later than you would have liked. Again, low calorie does not imply low quality as long as the palatability and aesthetics of the forage are acceptable. The second reason to test your forage products is to understand its nonstructural carbohydrate value (NSC) for the benefit of diseased horses. Over the last several decades, veterinarians and equine nutrition researchers have gained significant knowledge about the pathology, diagnosis and treatment of several metabolic, digestive, and muscle diseases in horses that are affected by NATALIE SHAW The author is an equine nutritional consultant based in Missoula, Mont. She received her master’s degree from Washington State University working with teff grass.

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NSCs. The connection between NSCs in the horse’s diet and equine obesity is called Equine Metabolic Syndrome, which relates to insulin resistance. Anyone suffering from diabetes is familiar with the issue. Similar to humans, horses can suffer from insulin resistance, which means the body’s ability to regulate and control blood sugar is compromised. Unlike humans, the risk of insulin resistance to a horse is the threat of laminitis; this is an inflammation within the hoof capsule leading to lameness and even euthanasia in severe cases. Ultimately, laminitis is what the horse owner is trying to avoid when they purchase low NSC forages. For decades, the horse feed industry has reacted to the higher demand for “low-carb” products and profited greatly. Unfortunately, the forage industry has lagged behind this trend due to poor communication of needs and wants.

in three values: water soluble carbohydrates (WSC %), ethanol soluble carbohydrates (ESC %), and starch (%). Total NSC values are reported on a dry matter basis as the sum of WSC (%) and starch (%). This is the standard value that equine nutritionists and veterinarians have chosen to use in current research trials, so, for consistency, I am suggesting similar use unless otherwise requested. What exactly does it mean for a forage to be classified as “low carb”? This is the ultimate question as neither the equine nor forage industries have led the way to a standardized definition. However, due to a small handful of equine nutrition research studies on Equine Metabolic Syndrome and obesity,

Let’s step back for a moment to give a crash course in forage carbohydrates. To be clear, any forage, no matter the species, is comprised mostly of carbohydrates. However, carbohydrates are an incredibly diverse array of compounds ranging from simple table sugar to tree bark. To further complicate the discussion, the way a plant biologist, an equine nutritionist, and analytical chemist describes or categorizes carbohydrates is unique, meaning that verbiage often overlaps or is inconsistent. Each plant species has a tendency to fluctuate in the various amounts of different types of carbohydrates, but the exact quantity of each carbohydrate can vary seasonally, daily, and even hourly in the plant. I refer to this as a plant’s “carbohydrate profile.” To grossly oversimplify, here’s one way to think about forage carbohydrates. Plant carbohydrates can be bifurcated into two categories: those that aid in the structure of the plant (structural carbohydrates) and those that do not (NSC). Nonstructural carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed relatively quickly in the equine digestive tract, which elicits a different hormonal response than do the more complex, structural carbohydrates. The latter must be digested with help from microbiota in the hindgut; this is a very different digestive system compared to ruminants. Nonstructural carbohydrates are reported on an analytical forage report

Natalie Shaw

Sugar to tree bark

Teff grass is a species that offers promise as a low-carb hay alternative for obese horses.

the suggestion in the marketplace is 10% to 12% NSC on a dry matter basis. The average grass hay is roughly 13% across the U.S., according to Equi-Analytical’s feed profiles. I suggest that hay growers report forage products testing below 10% to be “very low carb,” between 10.1% and 13% NSC as “low carb,” between 13.1% and 16% as “moderate carb,” and for any product over 16% as “high carb.”

Retailing low-carb horse hay The additional customer service provided by a forage analysis and some basic understanding of the report is valuable in the marketplace. A comprehensive and representative forage analysis should add $5 to $10 per ton on the retail price. Comprehensive forage tests can range between $30 and $70 per sample, depending on whether you request near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) or wet chemistry analysis and how many nutrients are reported. If you are interested in adapting your

forage business to better serve equine needs, here are my top five suggestions: 1. Choose a high-quality analytical forage laboratory with equine-specific packages and consider if NIRS or wet chemistry is appropriate. I would suggest paying more for wet chemistry if you are growing a mixed grass hay where you may not know all the species, you are testing for carbohydrates, or you are servicing diseased horses. 2. Collect a composite representative sample for each lot or field. An accurate laboratory analysis is only as good as the sampling method. Take many cores from around the haystack using an unbiased pattern. This is especially true when testing for NSC, as a horse’s well-being will depend on accurate information. 3. Make forage quality comparisons on a dry matter basis. 4. Test your hay for these forage quality metrics: a. Energy — reported as megacalories per pound (not standard for many forage testing packages). Energy values can be roughly interpreted and compared using Relative Feed Value, which is derived from acid detergent fiber (ADF) and neutral detergent fiber (NDF). b. Nonstructural carbohydrates (WSC% + starch%) c. Crude protein d. Vitamin and mineral profiles. These are excellent for more involved diet formation such as the calcium to phosphorus ratio, zinc, copper, selenium, and iron. Use only wet chemistry for such analyses. 5. Know what is “normal” for your area. Consult with a local extension agent or equine nutritionist. Everything is relative when it comes to nutrition. Growing concern over equine obesity and equine metabolic syndrome is changing the equine feed and forage marketplaces. Total calories and carbohydrates in a horse’s diet are growing in importance for horse owners to understand and refine feeding regimens. Because the vast majority of horses are consuming a greater percentage of forage products compared to processed grain products, it is vital that the horse owner know something about what is in the forage. Meaningful forage testing protocols are the way forward in the equine marketplace. With some basic understanding of calories and carbohydrates in their forage products, hay growers can gain a competitive advantage. • April/May 2020 | hayandforage.com | 29

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The improved Impact crabgrass (right) remains vegetative while Red River crabgrass (left) has already headed out.

Forage crabgrass, Bob Dylan, and the changing times by Michael Trammell and Twain Butler


RABGRASS. Just mentioning the word can make some producers cringe and mutter disapproval while others smile and nod with appreciation. Crabgrass is an annual, warm-season grass that is fast growing, easy to establish, and capable of natural and prolific reseeding, all of which allows it to excel as a “weed.” Despite its bad reputation, crabgrass was originally used in Europe as fodder before being introduced into the United States, likely around the mid-1800s, as a forage for grazing livestock. During the past 30 years or so, there has been an enormous change in the perception of crabgrass with forage producers and agricultural academics. It is now considered a legitimate forage crop. While connotations are difficult to break and crabgrass still carries a stigma, as Bob Dylan once sang, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

A history lesson There are differences between the weedy type and the cultivated type of crabgrass. Botanically, they are both in the genus Digitaria. The one most folks consider a weed is hairy crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis). The forage

type we are discussing in this article is called southern crabgrass (Digitaria ciliaris). Even though southern crabgrass is a genetic variant of hairy crabgrass, botanical taxonomists recognize it as a separate species. Noble Research Institute has been conducting research on crabgrass for many years. In 1988, Noble was the first to publicly release a crabgrass cultivar, which was named Red River. During its history, Red River crabgrass became the main commercial cultivar, promoting the use of crabgrass as an important warm-season annual grass for forage and livestock operations. This initially occurred in the southern Great Plains but now has spread throughout the southern United States. However, a limitation of Red River was its early heading date, thus accelerating maturity and reducing the quality and quantity of late summer forage. Several years after the release of Red River, another crabgrass cultivar, Quick-n-Big, which exhibited even earlier flowering than Red River, was privately released with limited success. Recently, Noble Research Institute plant breeders have developed a new crabgrass cultivar called Impact. Impact crabgrass was released for forage livestock producers needing a later-maturing cultivar than Red

River (see photo); one that is also broadly adapted, high yielding, and has improved nutritive quality and good reseeding ability. These improved crabgrass varieties are not weeds but high-producing, high-quality forages that are broadly adapted. The nutritive value of crabgrass is superior to other warm-season forage options during summer for both haying and grazing. Forage crabgrass has high crude protein and high digestibility, which promotes average daily gains of livestock that can easily reach 2 pounds per head per day. It is also an excellent choice in many double-cropping systems, especially with winter annual forages like wheat, to extend the grazing period.

Widely adapted Crabgrass can be used in both till and no-till forage production systems and is often managed in many livestock grazing operations as a reseeding crop, thereby reducing the cost of seed and other annual costs. In addition, crabgrass can also be MICHAEL TRAMMELL AND TWAIN BUTLER Trammell is a senior plant breeder and Butler is a professor and forage researcher. Both are with the Noble Research Institute.

30 | Hay & Forage Grower | April/May 2020

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forage in sufficient quantity to feed livestock 365 days a year. Current research taking place at Noble Research Institute aims to develop year-round grazing systems for the southern Great Plains. Because no single forage can accomplish this (Figure 1), we are evaluating forage species in mixtures or in combination. One of the crop rotations evaluated is a winter annual (NF101 wheat) and warm-season annual — specifically, the new Noble crabgrass cultivar named Impact. Based on forage availability, a put-and-take stocking method was used to measure grazing days, average daily gain, and total pounds of beef gain per acre. Using the expected performance data and expected prices for cattle and agronomic inputs, detailed agronomic budgets were developed that calculated revenues, costs, and net returns to the producer. Because of differences in the cattle market across years, system-generated revenue was normalized by assigning a common value of gain for each pound of beef produced. In the southern Great Plains, graze-

out wheat systems are considered the standard. Incorporating crabgrass into this system can keep the ground covered to prevent soil erosion and provide relatively high-quality forage during the summer for stocker cattle. The six-year period had above normal rainfall, which resulted in excellent reseeding of the crabgrass. Cattle grazing crabgrass averaged 1.5 pounds per day average daily gain, which resulted in excellent gain per acre even though the grazing duration was limited in this system, since crabgrass was sprayed in August to facilitate wheat planting in early September. Overall net return to the producer was greater from the wheat-crabgrass system (Table 1). Based on these data, crabgrass helps extend the grazing system in a winter annual system by filling the summer niche. Therefore, the next time you are looking for an annual forage to fit into your system, consider crabgrass. After all, “the times, they are a-changin’.” • Impact crabgrass with seed coating is marketed through Barenbrug USA in Tangent, Ore.

Figure 1: Seasonal forage distribution 3,000 2,500


used as a component in warm-season annual and perennial forage systems. It is particularly productive in dryland situations, but it also performs well under irrigation and across a range of soil pH levels (5 to 7.5). It can be used for greenchop, silage or hay production, and is an excellent choice for conservation purposes. It covers critical areas quickly due to its rapid establishment and growth. Adequate fertility must be provided for forages to be successful, and crabgrass is no exception. Soil test and apply phosphorus and potassium accordingly. Nitrogen is usually applied at 75 to 100 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre for the growing season. Crabgrass seeds’ light and fluffy quality can interfere with its ability to flow through a seed drill. They are also rough in texture, resulting in individual seeds sticking together to form large clumps. The clumps not only cause problems when drilling but with the broadcasting of seed as well. To overcome these issues, crabgrass seed is sometimes mixed with a carrier, such as a fertilizer, to aid in seed flow through the machine when planting. Coated seed can also improve establishment results by adding bulk and weight to the seed, allowing it to be easily drilled or broadcast. For best results, seeding rates should range from 4 to 6 pounds of pure live seed (PLS) per acre and planting depth should be 1/4-inch deep. Crabgrass’ excellent ability to reseed makes re-establishment each year easy, which can potentially reduce costs; however, it is recommended to add low rates of additional seed annually to the production system.

2,000 1,500 1,000 500 0

A good summer fit








Warm-season grass

The ultimate goal for every forage producer is to have high-quality




Tall fescue

Winter annual




Summer annual

Table 1. Average production and expected economics for alternative forage-based stocker systems evaluated at the Noble Research Institute Production system

Study years

Normal rainfall (%)

Grazing initiation date

Grazing termination date

Grazing duration (days)

Steer grazing days (per acre)

Average daily gain (pounds per head per acre)

Total gain (pounds per acre)

Value of gain (cost per pound)

Gross revenue (cost per acre)

Total cost (cost per acre)

Net return (cost per acre)

NF101 wheat

6-year average (2013 to 2019)












NF crabgrass

5-year average (2014 to 2019)












NF101 wheat/impact crabgrass

6-year average (2013 to 2019)








0.80/ 0.60




April/May 2020 | hayandforage.com | 31

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From flush to slump


PRING is officially here. Some beef producers have finished calving while others are just getting started. Regardless, understanding how to match your available forage to your herd’s nutritional needs is important going forward into the growing season. From early April to late May, the week-to-week change (quality and quantity) in pastures is rapid throughout the Midwest. Initially, ensure lactating cows have enough to eat given short forage height and the high forage moisture content. Also, be mindful to not negatively impact pasture productivity going forward. These and other early spring grazing challenges need to be addressed early for season-long grazing success. Thankfully, this early spring timeline is fairly short as pastures change to belly-deep grass in a hurry. By the end of May and early June, instead of dealing with short, early growth, producers need to have a plan to manage the influx of available forage often termed the “spring flush.” Of course, this assumes moisture wasn’t limiting. We know that the quantity of forage will likely be available for the cows, but maintaining enough quality so that it meets a breeding cow’s requirements and keeps herd performance acceptable is the challenge. Data presented in Iowa Cow-calf Production – Exploring Different Management Systems was collected and summarized from summer pasture samples taken from multiple producers throughout the state over two years. On average, pastures provided enough protein for a 1,400-pound lactating cow, and energy was sufficient in most months. The majority of pastures in this study were composed of cool-season grasses with some legumes. For forages, the biggest factor influencing nutritive value

is maturity. To maintain grass quality, the key is to keep the grass vegetative. One effective method for maintaining a vegetative state is rotational grazing. This can be intensive rotational grazing or rotating between a few paddocks. Strategic timing to mow a pasture can also be used to keep grass vegetative for a longer period of time. In the Midwest, tall fescue is an important and prominent grass species. Chaparral is an example of an herbicide that also suppresses fescue seedheads from developing, which extends the vegetative timeline and reduces the likelihood of fescue toxicosis. It’s a challenge to effectively utilize the tonnage of grass grown in the spring flush before grass quality declines, and the summer slump reduces growth. The most common method of using the large quantity of grass is to defer grazing in a set number of paddocks or pasture acres and then harvest it as hay when it reaches the boot to dough stage. The harvested hay can be stored and fed in winter, early spring before grass growth is adequate, or it can be a good feed option for freshly weaned calves in the fall.

Consider stockers Running stocker calves is a flexible option that offers the ability to graze excess grass in the spring and early summer, and then sell calves or put them in a feedyard as grass growth declines. The available grass can result in cheap gains, though the amount gained can be influenced by several factors. Keep in mind that stocker calves are putting on a large portion of their weight in muscle. This requires protein, and the type of protein influences weight gain. The protein in forages is mostly rumen degradable protein (RDP). The other main type of protein

Mike Rankin

by Beth Reynolds

is rumen undegradable protein (RUP). The general analogy nutritionists use to differentiate between these is that RDP feeds the microbes, and RUP travels to the small intestine and is used by the animal. It’s not quite this straightforward, but for a young animal putting on muscle, a strategic RUP supplement can help the animal gain more efficiently on a high-forage diet. Energy supplementation, utilizing a low potency implant, and feeding an ionophore through mineral are all strategies that can improve stocker gains on pasture. Many assume that providing a supplement allows the pasture to have a higher carrying capacity. Though not wrong, the amount of supplement fed determines if forage intake will be reduced or not. Iowa Beef Center data shows that supplementing mature cows and stocker calves at less than 0.5% of the animal’s body weight did not displace any forage consumption. However, when supplementation rose to greater than 1% of the animal’s body weight, the forage consumption declined by as much as 26%. In addition, a supplementation program when grazing on fescue-dominant pasture enhances performance due to its mitigating effects on fescue toxicity.

Prepare for the slump For producers grazing stockers, or simply stocking cow numbers high enough to take advantage of the abundance of forage in the spring, an option to keep carrying capacity high through the “summer slump” period is to plant some warm-season annual forages and incorporate them into the grazing rotation. After the plethora of prevent-plant acres last year, and with the looming questions around markets, more producers have considered alternative forage crops. These give producers more flexibility and options to boost carrying capacity through the summer. Even though management is needed to capitalize on the value of your spring and early summer pastures, this time of year is a favorite for beef producers. • BETH REYNOLDS The author is with Iowa State University Extension and is a program specialist at the Iowa Beef Center in Ames.

32 | Hay & Forage Grower | April/May 2020

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by Adam Verner

Over time, single-screw, vertical mixers have been designed to efficiently process large bale packages.

Vertical, single-screw mixers have improved


VERYONE is finally in or near the full swing of the 2020 hay season. Some of us in the South are working on the second cutting of spring annuals, and the fertilizer trucks are running hard in the North. For the most part, the winter was not as cold nor as snowy as years past for most of the country. This made life a little easier for livestock producers. Hopefully, we don’t have to pay the price this spring and summer. Undesirable weather events always seem to bring with them challenges in getting livestock fed properly. The cattle-feeding market has changed tremendously in the last decade or so, and how we feed them has changed, too. I’m not just talking about the feed rations and what they are comprised of, but also the mixer that the total mixed ration (TMR) is formulated with. It wasn’t that long ago when reel and auger mixers were all you could find. They did, and still do, an awesome job

getting a consistent mix of the feed, and they still are the best bet for small batch mixes. When vertical mixers first came to the market, it wasn’t always “love at first sight.” Not all farmers are comfortable with change. Eventually, every sector of the livestock industry would come around to their versatility, convenience, and simplicity. As with most equipment, the progression in manufacturing gets better with each new model change. One thing that put a bad taste in people’s mouths when vertical mixers first started being used heavily was their inability to process round or square bales in a timely manner. This was especially true for the smaller, single-screw models.

A new day for mixers I do not believe this is a problem any longer, although some mixers still can take 20 to 30 minutes to process a bale of dry hay. I know there are single-screw mixers out there that can process a bale

faster than a twin screw. I also know that there are still some nonbelievers among those who owned some of the first vertical mixers available. The improvements that a few manufacturers have figured out when it comes to bale processing relates to the angle of the tub walls, the number of knives, and the speed of the auger. There are several mixer brands on the market that can process wet or dry hay bales in around 10 minutes. This is a huge improvement from the 30 minutes that other single- and twin-screw mixers can take. It doesn’t even seem right that one auger can process faster than two, but if the angles on the tub wall and the angle of auger match the bale size, it can fall in between, and there are always knives in contact with the bale. Couple that with a higher speed auger, and you have some fast, efficiently processed hay. With the twin-screw mixers, there can be a dead spot in between the two augers, which will slow down the mixing and processing. Even the same manufacturer can have faster processing with their single-auger mixer than their counterpart twin-screw model. One sure-fire method to shorten your grinding time is to invest in a baler with a precutter. These will cut a mixer’s processing time in about half and be easier on mixer knives. There’s no longer a reason to be scared of a single-auger, vertical mixer anymore; there are several in the marketplace that can save you money in the purchase cost and also save time and money each day while you are mixing. Here’s wishing you a great 2020 hay and forage season! • ADAM VERNER The author is a managing partner in Elite Ag LLC, Leesburg, Ga. He also is active in the family farm in Rutledge.

April/May 2020 | hayandforage.com | 33

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Into unchartered waters It’s been more than a century since we’ve entered a growing season faced with a pandemic and an economy in a full-blown shamble. Other than needing to still make hay, it’s anybody’s guess how the situation will eventually impact hay markets. Hay stock estimates from USDA will

be released in May. Regardless of how total stocks may look, we know that high-quality hay is in short supply. Hay exports are still holding their own. The prices below are primarily from USDA hay market reports as of the beginning of mid-April. Prices are FOB barn/stack unless otherwise noted.•

For weekly updated hay prices, go to “USDA Hay Prices” at hayandforage.com Supreme-quality alfalfa California (intermountain) California (northern SJV) California (southeast) Colorado (northeast) Colorado (northeast)-ssb Kansas (all regions) Missouri Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Montana Oklahoma (eastern) Oregon (Lake County) Pennsylvania (southeast) Texas (Panhandle) Texas (west)-ssb Premium-quality alfalfa California (Sacramento Valley) California (northern SJV) California (southern) California (southeast) Colorado (northeast) Idaho Iowa Iowa (Rock Valley)-ssb Kansas (all regions) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Missouri Montana Oklahoma (central) Oklahoma (western)-lrb Oregon (Lake County) Pennsylvania (southeast)-ssb Texas (Panhandle) Washington (Columbia Basin) Washington (Columbia Basin)-ssb Wisconsin (Lancaster) Wyoming (western)-ssb Good-quality alfalfa California (northern SJV) Colorado (southeast)-ssb Iowa (Rock Valley) Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (all regions) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Missouri Montana Montana-lrb Nebraska (east/central)-lrb Oklahoma (central) Oregon (Klamath Basin) Pennsylvania (southeast) South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb Texas (Panhandle) Washington (Columbia Basin)

Price $/ton 210-225 275-290 205-212 230 380 185-225 180-200 180-250 175-190 210-220 215 425 240-260 275-300 Price $/ton 280 220-240 279-299 210-225 225 160-170 200-250 205 170-195 200-210 160-180 150-175 190-200 165-180 200 370-390 200-230 210 240 240 200-210 Price $/ton 255 240 143 128-143 150-178 170-235 120-160 130-150 100-120 80-105 150 160 275 113 175-200 180

Wisconsin (Lancaster)-lrb Wyoming (eastern) (d) Wyoming (eastern)-lrb

100-110 165-175 160-170 (d)

Fair-quality alfalfa California (intermountain) California (southeast) Idaho Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (all regions) Minnesota (Pipestone)-lrb (d) Missouri Montana Nebraska (east/central) (d) Nebraska (western) Oklahoma (central) South Dakota-lrb South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb Wisconsin (Lancaster) Wyoming (eastern) Bermudagrass hay Alabama-Premium lrb Alabama-Good lrb California (southeast)-Premium Texas (north/central/east)-Good ssb Texas (south)-Good/Premium lrb

Price $/ton 165-190 162 135 100-115 95-125 110-125 100-125 110-120 100 155 130 125 98-108 75-130 135 Price $/ton 133 90-110 220 200-260 140-180

Bromegrass hay Kansas (southeast)-Good ssb Kansas (southeast)-Good lrb Missouri-Good Orchardgrass hay California (intermountain)-Premium Colorado (northeast)-Premium Oregon-Premium ssb (d) Pennsylvania (southeast)-Premium Pennsylvania (southeast)-Good Washington (Col.Basin)-Premium ssb Timothy hay California (intermountain)-Premium (d) Montana-Premium-ssb Pennsylvania (southeast)-Premium Pennsylvania (southeast)-Good Washington (Columbia Basin)-Fair Oat hay California (intermountain)-Good Iowa (Rock Valley)-Utility lrb Minnesota (Pipestone)-lrb Oregon (Lake County)-Good Straw Iowa (Rock Valley) Kansas (southeast) Minnesota (Sauk Centre)-lrb Montana Pennsylvania (southeast) South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb

Price $/ton 125-150 70-80 80-120 Price $/ton 250-300 300 275 380 280 260 Price $/ton 370 210-240 300-325 200-220 135 (d) Price $/ton 185 (d) 50 55 130 Price $/ton 30-98 60-75 100-120 35-45 120-195 48-58

Abbreviations: d=delivered, lrb=large round bales, ssb=small square bales, o=organic

38 | Hay & Forage Grower | April/May 2020

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she said. That may mean the bioassay would require use of test seeds from the same variety that will be planted. “We have quite a bit more work to do,” Cassida added. Many more soils from a variety of environments, including dry ones, are and will be tested before Cassida considers the bioassay to be fully validated and ready for farmers. “I think we are going to have winterkill again this year, so we are probably going

to have people trying to re-establish fields that maybe they shouldn’t. I hope to get soil from some of those fields and then follow up and see how the stands are. We’re going to do more greenhouse work, too,” she said. A protocol for handling soil samples will also need to be developed. Checkoff funding helped generate additional state money to continue the research, and she also plans to apply for future funding from the Alfalfa

Seed & Alfalfa Forage System Program, established through efforts of the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance and administered competitively by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Her goal is to have a working soil test, plus a protocol in handling soil samples, within the next two years. For more on the research, visit https:// www.alfalfa.org. •

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