Growing perennial grasses, forbs and legumes is an important source of forage for livestock and one of the most reliable ways to protect soil and water. While our signs say Growing Grass, we are really referring to the diversity of perennial forages that are usually grown together for hay and pasture.
Perennial plants do not have to be reseeded or replanted every year, so they do not require annual plowing or herbicide applications to establish. Perennial forages can be grown for dry hay, haylage or pasture.
Perennial crops are robust; they protect soil from erosion and improve soil structure. They increase ecosystem nutrient retention, carbon sequestration, and water infiltration, and can contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation. Overall, they help ensure food and water security over the long term.
Growing perennial crops is especially important on land that would be vulnerable if it were in annual crop production: fields that are sloping, wet, prone to flooding, or adjacent to waterways. Growing perennial forages in these areas means the land can still be a source of food, without putting our waterways at risk.
Select forage species based on the intended use, level of management, realistic yield estimates, maturity stage, and compatibility with other species. Verify plant adaptation to the area prior to planting. Additional selection factors may include:
Climatic conditions, such as annual precipitation and its distribution, growing season length, temperature extremes and the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone.
Soil condition and landscape position attributes such as; pH, available water holding capacity, aspect, slope, drainage class, fertility level, salinity, depth, flooding and ponding, and levels of phytotoxic elements that may be present.
Resistance to disease and insects common to the site or location.
Do not plant federal, state, or local noxious species.
Inspect and calibrate equipment prior to use. Continually monitor during planting to insure proper rate, distribution and depth of planting material is maintained.
Prepare the site to provide a medium that does not restrict plant emergence. Plant when soil moisture is adequate for germination and establishment. Apply all plant nutrients and/or soil amendments for establishment purposes according to a current soil test. When planting legumes, use pre-inoculated seed or inoculate with the proper viable strain of Rhizobia immediately before planting. Plant at a depth appropriate for the seed size or plant material, while assuring uniform contact with soil.
Exclude livestock until the plants are well established. Use conservation and no-till planting methods, and a fast-growing "nurse crop" like oats, to establish forage plants on land subject to erosion, conserve soil moisture and and build organic matter.
Monitor new plantings for water stress. Depending on the severity of drought, water stress may require reducing weeds, early harvest of any companion crops, irrigating when possible, or replanting failed stands.
The cost to plant an annual crop field into perennials will depend on the amount of bed preparation needed and the types of seed selected, but might roughly work out to $300/ac.
ASSOCIATED & COMPLIMENTARY PRACTICES