Successful Forage Establishment

— Written By
Mostly successful forage establishment.

Seedlings at 25 days old.

No matter whether you’re planting a pasture or a hayfield, seed costs can be expensive. Add in your time and equipment costs and establishing a forage stand is not a cheap proposition. That’s why it is important to follow some guidelines to give you the best chance of success.

1. Soil fertility… Plants need nutrition and the proper pH to grow. A soil report is the only way to know what you need.

2. What is the correct forage species to plant??? Don’t choose something that won’t grow well here. Extension can help you with that.

3. Seedbed Preparation…  Good seedbed preparation is a key, as a firm seedbed will help with seed placement, especially small-seeded forages. If growers are establishing new pastures or hayfields then the soil needs to be level, firm, and free of clods and other debris. A final seedbed that is smooth and free of ridges and depressions could affect harvest equipment for years to come. If no-tilling, residue, and soil moisture can affect the correct placement of seed.

4. Weed Control…Often weed control needs to start before you actually put the forage seed in the ground. The NC Chemical Manual can provide some guidance.

5. Seeding Rate, Depth, and Time… 

This is not a good example of proper seed depth - seed to soil contact is poor.

Seed laying on top of ground.

All these are critical to success when establishing forages. Check out the Forage Planting Guide for North Carolina for these details. Or check out the online version of the planting guide based on crop and location.

6. Equipment… using the correct equipment is important so that you get the seed placed at the right depth. Many different equipment options are available and can be successful with planning and calibration. Calibrate the drill or seeder to make sure you are putting out the correct amount of seed. Planting too deep is often the cause of stand failure.

Successful forage establishment

6-day old seedlings

Successful forage stands can be achieved with some planning. If you have questions about forages, seeding rates, planting techniques, or any other forage related topics please contact the Extension office.

Now is a good time to plant some summer annuals, but this information can also be used when it’s time to plant cool-season perennials this fall.