Prevent Plant? Maintain Soil Health with These Useful Tips

When fields are open during late spring/summer, whether part of a planned system or created by unfortunate weather, it’s critical to keep soils covered, taking advantage of the longer seeding window and maintaining soil health benefits.

Keep these items in mind if prevent plant is a possibility within your operation:

1. DO SOMETHING. Leaving ground fallow greatly increases risk of erosion and improves the likelihood of leaching nitrates, sulfates and other nutrients that could be used by the following year’s crop. Bare ground also encourages risk of “Fallow Syndrome” the following year. Fallow Syndrome occurs when there’s no plant growth in an area for an extended period. Populations of “good fungi”, called active mycorrhizae, are reduced because they need actively growing roots to survive. These fungi depend on host plants to complete their life cycle. Adding a grass (ryegrass, oats, etc.) or legume such as peas or hairy vetch are extremely beneficial and will better support the good fungi in the soil.

2. DETERMINE YOUR GOALS. There are many “cover crop” options available to use. The crop rotation goals of the producer should help steer the decision. Normally, crop harvest can often limit the time we have available to plant a cover crop, but because our planting window is now early, just about everything can be considered. Again, this should depend on what the producer wants to accomplish with the cover crop planting.

3. UNDERSTAND THE GUIDELINES.If taking the full prevented plant option, haying or grazing is not allowed until after Nov. 1 (or other dates in the Midwest, depending on state or region). Check with your state or county FSA office for further info on grazing restrictions with this program.


4. THINK ABOUT HERBICIDE RESTRICTIONS. Consider herbicides already applied on acres not yet planted. In many cases, cover crops and other non-traditional crops will not be listed on the herbicide label. Many universities are doing more work on this topic to determine what options farmers have in the case of “prevent plant” or other cropping systems that offer quick seeding windows. If a cover crop is being planted for erosion control and won’t be harvested, the grower then assumes the risk if that cover crop doesn’t appear on the herbicide label. However, if that cover crop will be harvested as forage, either mechanically or by livestock, then rotational restrictions on the label must be followed. For more information on herbicide rotational restrictions, refer to FAQ #5 in the Soil First® Management Guide.

Cover crop mixes allow for diversity and opportunity to spread out risk. Mixes also allow for reduced weather risks, help break pest cycles and prevent erosion that some monoculture species are vulnerable to. Added benefits include nitrogen fixing and improved soil health as well.
Access Prevent Plant Info Sheet Here
As always, double check your plans with your crop insurance agent to ensure compliance. For late planting dates and other information for your state, see below:

For more info on insurance programs, including early and final planting dates by county and state, visit:

Measuring Sorghum Quality Vs. Corn

Measuring Sorghum Quality Vs. Corn 
The challenges of Spring 2017 have many producers looking outside the box to produce quality silage for livestock. While many forage options exist, most require a drill to plant and multiple passes over the field for optimum harvest.

One exception to this is forage sorghum. A corn planter or drill can be used to plant this seed and when using the proper maturity, the producer can expect to harvest in a relatively short period. There has been much improvement with forage sorghums the past two decades, including improved standability with a leafier plant, improved digestibility with the BMR6 gene and improved tonnage, often outperforming corn.

95 BMR forage sorghum is the ideal choice for a dairy or feedlot producer looking for a product that can deliver superior silage quality using a one-cut system. Some benefits include:

  • BMR 6 gene: low lignin technology for improved digestibility and feeding efficiency
  • Wide adaptation: can be used in many soil types and production environments
  • Earlier maturity & disease resistance combination allow this hybrid to be used across the U.S. (North to South)

In Southern US: this hybrid works great as a ratooning crop (crop goes to full harvest and is allowed to regrow for additional harvest)

One question we’ve been asked is how does forage sorghum compare to the quality of corn silage?

When managed properly, the 95 BMR not only provides the necessary tonnage, but also provides quality feed that rivals quality corn silage. Many producers rely on the high digestible fiber of the 95 BMR BD to maintain or even improve meat or milk production of their herd. Due to high digestibility, it is recommended to increase cut length to ¾” to 1 ¼” to slow down the passage through the rumen.

Learn more about 95 BMR BD forage sorghum

About The Corner Post

The Corner Post is a periodic email series with timely forage tips from the agronomic experts at 
Forage First and La Crosse Seed. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, contact us here.

Fertilizing Pastures – Holiday Schedule

Good soil fertility is extremely important for productive pastures. Even the best, most improved forage species and varieties need adequate amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as secondary nutrients, to perform their best. We always recommend testing soils first to determine how much fertilizer one may need.

If soil test results show that fertilizer is needed, a good program to follow is to divide your recommended fertilizer amount (based also on your annual production goals) over our three summer holidays: Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day. Here’s a brief snapshot of what those three applications offer:

  • Memorial Day – happening after spring flush slows initial growth and boosts stand productivity into summer
  • 4th of July – jump starts pastures for fall and winter stockpiling
  • Labor Day – extends the grazing season; allows energy reserves to be restored for winter and the following spring

If three applications do not make sense, because of time and/or budget, then transitioning to two treatments still works – Memorial Day & Labor Day.

Nutrient applications should be made based on production goals.

Take Note – Timing of Fertilizer Application is Important: 

  • Since many cool-season grasses grow vigorously in spring on their own, applying additional N can hurt overall competitiveness and thus impede growth of other components, notably legumes
  • Avoid applying N during extreme dry conditions, as leaf burn can occur

It doesn’t make sense to time fertilizer applications when large weather events are forecasted – fertilizer is lost to streams and waterways instead of getting to the target

About The Corner Post

The Corner Post is a periodic email series with timely forage tips from the agronomic experts at Forage First and La Crosse Seed. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, contact us here.

Preventing Grass Tetany in Spring

Preventing Grass Tetany in Spring
As we look forward to warmer temperatures, cool-season pastures become lush green and grow quickly. This growth can result in challenging conditions for grazing cattle, primarily lactating cattle. Grass tetany (or grass staggers) is a metabolic disorder caused by cattle foraging on high moisture, low nutrient (magnesium (Mg)) grasses. Animals with this disorder find it difficult to eat enough dry matter to meet their nutrient requirements. It generally affects older lactating cows but can also be an issue in dry or young cows and in rare cases, growing calves.Symptoms of Grass Tetany Include:

  • Nervousness
  • Staggering
  • Spasms
  • Convulsions
  • Overall lack of coordination

Further, this condition can lead to decreases in milk production and death. If grass tetany is suspected, a vet should be contacted quickly as treatment can save affected animals.

Timing & Species:
Grass tetany usually occurs when pastures are green and lush in spring, but can also occur in fall or winter, when cool-season grasses or small grains begin to grow quickly. Usual suspects are orchardgrass, perennial ryegrass, timothy, tall fescue, bromegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, annual ryegrass, wheatgrass and small grains (wheat, oats, barley, triticale and rye). Another possible occurrence is cattle wintering on corn stover (or anything with low Mg levels). Elevated N and K levels usually increase risk of grass tetany by decreasing levels of Mg available.

Management Tips to Help Prevent Grass Tetany:

  • Add legumes. Increasing legume content of pastures with clover (or alfalfa) can offset low Mg due to higher Mg levels in these species.
  • Refrain from placing cattle in recently fertilized fields or where significant amounts of manure have been applied (higher N & K levels tie up Mg)
  • Test soil and forage. If low Mg levels are suspected, testing soil and/or forage can provide insight into possible problems.
  • Use high Mg supplement. Animals should be fed a high Mg supplement or free-choice mineral (containing 8-12% Mg). Mg may be added to a protein or liquid supplement, grain mix or silage.
  • Handle affected animals gently. Treatment of cows in early stages of grass tetany can be effective, but animals should be handled gently to produce the least amount of stress possible. Corralling or roping can cause stress that may lead to death.

Reference: University of Kentucky, 2014; Purdue University

I’d Like to Add Legumes to My Pasture
If you’re ready to add legumes to your pasture to help prevent grass tetany, or have other questions, please click the button above or contact us at 800.356.7333 or



Renovating High Traffic Areas in Pastures

Renovating High Traffic Areas in Pastures
From late fall to early spring, pastures can be beat up. High traffic areas (feeding areas, sacrifice lots, alleyways, watering areas) are often bare and muddy from early spring to early summer. To slow/reduce soil erosion, compaction, forage damage and weed problems, these areas should be renovated, but proper management is critical and often the difference between success and a muddy mess. Overall, animal health increases when muddy areas are reduced as well.

Recommended Options & Considerations
Annual (Italian) and perennial ryegrass are good options when renovating these areas – annual ryegrass as a short-term fix and perennial ryegrass as a residual or long-term solution. Each can increase overall quality of the pasture or hay field being renovated:

Italian ryegrass is best suited for spring plantings. They provide excellent forage potential with the added flexibility of not going to head in the seeding year.

Perennial ryegrass, like most cool-season grasses, may have a “summer slump” July – September (depending on region/climate). But with proper fertilization and grazing rotations, it can last several years. Use tetraploid ryegrass, which tends to be more upright with wide leaves and higher quality. A key advantage of ryegrass is palatability.

We also carry and recommend SucraSeed high sugar ryegrasses, with the attributes of ryegrass (quick germination, easy to establish) plus tolerance to summer heat and dry weather thanks to a higher level of carbohydrates and stored energy.

I’m Ready to Renovate my Pasture


Ryegrasses can be used for pasture, dry hay or silage, and establish quickly, so they work well when seeding windows are small and ground cover is critical. When harvested in the vegetative state, ryegrass is very high in digestibility (often referred to as “Queen of the Cool Season Grasses”). Because of higher nutritional values (namely protein), it can be used in dairy systems too.

Additional tips to ensure success:

  • Fertilizer and lime should be applied per soil test results. Split applications of N (40-50 lbs. actual/acre) can be especially beneficial.
  • Do not over-apply N when interseeding into existing grasses. Added N can lead to increased competition from established components in the field already.
  • Keep livestock and/or heavy traffic off newly seeded areas to allow for seedling establishment
  • Do not overgraze and allow for a rest and regrowth period before grazing again

    University of Kentucky, 2014



For many years, the common thing to do when spring seeding alfalfa was to add oats as a cover or companion crop. Back in the day, oats provided straw and grain for livestock (and horses) used around the farm. Today, a different kind of horsepower is used – and the thought of integrating oats as a spring cover crop may need to be re-thought, or at least revisited.

Using oats as a cover crop is common in fall plantings between traditional cash crop rotations like corn and soybeans. Oats planted alongside other grasses and broad-leaves can provide numerous benefits from erosion protection to weed control. This is one popular and agronomic use for oats. However, we are frequently asked for recommendations on a seeding rate for oats when planted with alfalfa in spring. Let’s take a look at what we’ve learned:

Seeding oats for spring grain is one thing – usually achieved with seeding rates somewhere north of 2 bu/acre, even up to 3 bu. When oats are used for silage, we typically like to see a seeding rate a little less – more like 1.5 – 2 bu/acre. Some of our recommended oat varieties are included here.
When seeding oats alongside alfalfa, considerable damage can occur to the alfalfa stand, especially if the oats are allowed to produce grain. Allowing oats to mature further decreases the forage quality:
Average Forage Quality Values for Oats Harvested at Different Maturity Stages:

Seeding rates approaching 1 bu/acre can be too heavy and cause irrecoverable stand losses. We actually like to see a seeding rate around .5 to .75 bu/acre if it’s actually necessary to add a spring cover crop. – Undersander, 2007
So, we must make a decision to either plant alfalfa for future forage yields, OR include oats for a short term gain from the oat grain, silage or straw. From a financial perspective, we think it’s easy to figure out which forage yield is and will be more valuable.If small grain yield is necessary, consider spring barley, which is typically ready across the Midwest at least a couple weeks sooner than oats – allowing the alfalfa crop growing underneath more time to recover.

Other cereal grains, like triticale, can also be used. However, spring triticale can be hard on the alfalfa stand too – it matures similar to oats and can be more difficult to manage for silage.

Granted, spring oats are an ideal ground cover on highly erodible (HEL) soils and planting alongside alfalfa can reduce soil, nutrient and seed loss from erosion in those environments. If plans include use of Roundup Ready alfalfa, it’s then possible to terminate when oats reach 6-12″ high (remember, dead or dying oats provide excellent erosion protection as well). This typically occurs around 30 days after emergence.

Or, even if the goal includes harvesting oatlage later in spring, glyphosate could be used as a “clean up” post harvest (about 2 weeks after harvest). This application could also include an insecticide application if warranted. La Crosse Seed offers a Roundup Ready alfalfa option: FF 4319.A2 RR Alfalfa.

Ultimately, plant alfalfa in the spring because the goal is a solid stand aimed at producing forage for the foreseeable future. Recognize that it may make sense to concentrate spring grain forage goals on other acres, where one could also integrate crops like forage peas to increase overall palatability, while increasing protein and lowering fiber content. La Crosse Seed specializes in spring grain mixes with peas, and has decades of experience managing spring pea and grains. For information on our pea mixes, click here.

The Value of Frost Seeding Legumes

Have You Considered Introducing Legumes Into Your Grass Pasture? 
A 25-30% legume component in the pasture offers several benefits. This will improve quality for grazing animals while also increasing the amount of forage that can be removed (50-100% increase in production when using legumes as a small percent of the grass pasture).Introducing legumes into grass pasture also reduces the amount of applied nitrogen fertilizer since the legume will fix nitrogen and help provide a large portion of the nitrogen the grass needs to grow.

Tips For Success When Frost Seeding:
Starting in January and running through March to early April across the Midwest, frost seeding legumes into pastures and hay fields makes a ton of sense (and cents). This method doesn’t disturb existing sod and typically, access to frost seeded areas for grazing livestock is much faster than with conventionally tilled fields. It’s also an economical method to introduce legumes with reduced labor and equipment cost. Tips include:

  • Make sure frost seeding is done before frost leaves the soil structure. The basic principle is that alternate freezing/thawing action of soil in late winter/early spring, along with spring rains, incorporates the spread legume seed. Typically, 2-3 cycles of freezing/thawing are desired for best incorporation.
  • To prepare for seeding, ideally the pasture would be grazed or clipped closely the previous fall to reduce the amount of thatch present
  • Soil tests should indicate proper phosphorus and pH levels for legumes
  • Following seeding, the area can be grazed as the tramping action helps incorporate the seed and reduces competition from grass to the new legume seedlings. However, care must be taken not to overgraze until the legumes have established.

What Species Should I Consider?
Most adapted forage legume species are suitable for frost seeding. 
Red clover is most commonly used due to excellent seedling vigor, but white clovers, birdsfoot trefoil and alfalfa can also work. Alfalfa should not be used if the existing pasture contains alfalfa due to auto-toxicity.

The overall frequency of frost seeding depends on how well the level of legumes is maintained in the stand, but a rule of thumb is to plan on over-seeding one third of your pasture acres every year.

Ready to Get Started?
Adding a legume to your existing pasture is an economical way to add value to the pasture, resulting in higher forage quality, yields and improved animal health. If you’re ready to get started, contact us or click the button below and we’ll get you connected with a Forage First dealer in your area.

I’m Ready to Add Legumes to My Pasture
Forage First Spotlight: 
Forage First 9615 3-Year Red Clover is a new elite medium red clover variety. This variety has been tested throughout the Midwest and has shown superior forage yield potential, good quality, excellent stand persistence and good disease resistance. FF 9615 is adapted to a wide geography and works well in both grazing and hay environments.

About The Corner Post

The Corner Post is a periodic email series with timely forage tips from the agronomic experts at Forage First and La Crosse Seed. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, contact us here.

Harvest Management of Cereal Grains in the Spring

Fall and spring seeded grains both work well in grazing environments.  When using a cereal grain for forage, grazing that cereal grain undoubtable makes the most sense.  Cereals can also be harvested for hay, however lengthy curing times can make timely harvest and quality forage production difficult.  When comparing the quality of small grain hay to the quality of baleage or silage, the quality is usually less as well.  In most situations, the best compromise for achieving both yield and quality is harvesting the cereal grain as silage or baleage, when the crop is in the early milk stage.  Timing of harvest, just like cool season grasses, plays a significant role in the quality of the forage.  Typically, there are three stages where small grains are harvested – boot, milk, and dough.

Boot stage occurs when the seed head is enclosed by the sheath of the uppermost leaf.  If the goal is to produce high quality forage, then every effort should be made to harvest prior to boot stage (between flag leaf and boot stage). The milk stage is when the grain head releases a liquid, white substance when opened. The dough stage signifies the time when the grain head turns to a soft, or doughy consistency.  Just like many grass forages, as the plant matures from the boot stage to the dough stage, the quality generally get worse while yield goes up.  If harvesting for high yields then it makes sense to harvest later, like the late dough stage, although delayed harvests after late dough can lead to a crop with inadequate moisture for ensilage.  If there’s a perfect compromise with cereal grains (both yield and quality), harvest should be made at the early dough stage.  Timely harvest can be more of a challenge with small grains versus cool season grasses because these crops mature relatively quickly from boot stage to dough.

Small grain species are different in their time to maturity.  With planting dates relatively equal, barley typically matures first, followed by wheat, triticale, and rye.  Oats will usually mature the latest.  All these small grains have a fit, but the needs of the farm relative to yield and quality will determine the best time for ideal harvest.


What Type of Silage Storage Do I Use?

We often get asked questions about storing silage, whether it’s alfalfa or a grass like corn or forage sorghum.  For some this may be common knowledge, but many factors go in to making that decision.  Both permanent silos and short-term solutions like silo bags have a fit and can meet the goal of the producer.  However, the type of forage being harvested and the long term plan of the farm make a huge impact to on which method to employ.  Although it’s a few years old, the University of Wisconsin has published a great piece titled “Deciding on a Silage Storage Type” which is still used over and over today.  The decision tree / flow chart at the end of the article is especially useful:

Sorghum Flow

Cutting Height in Forage Grasses

In many areas of the Midwest, grass hay has been harvested or cut once, if not twice.  Many factors influence how quick the next cutting might be ready – the grass species being harvested, fertilization practices, and climate to name a few.  One big reason we at La Crosse Seed observe often for delayed regrowth is cutting height (or cutting grasses too low).  When grasses are cut too low, energy reserves have to be used to manufacture the extra growth needed to “catch back up”.  This not only slows establishment in the first couple years after seeding, but it also equates to less persistence long term.  Cutting too low can lead to more soil being picked up resulting in poor quality / high ash forage.  And consider the overall forage value gained from cutting grasses an additional couple inches closer to its base.  The top half of the grass forage canopy has a higher percentage of digestible nutrients and less fiber than the bottom half of the plant.  This occurs because the lower-stem sections are more mature and tend to be woodier compared to the less mature top portion.  The lower portion of stems contain less leaves (leaves are higher in relative feed value (RFV)) and typically contain higher levels of non-digestible nutrients that will need to be replaced if cut.

While forage grasses differ in many management characteristics, considerations about cutting height are fairly uniform.  When cutting grasses like fescue, orchardgrass, timothy, ryegrass, and bromegrass for example, always leave at least 3-4”, if not 5-6”.

For Facebook users: The video-link below is a time-lapsed video from the University of Kentucky showing orchardgrass regrowth in a simulated grazing system.  Notice how much quicker the orchardgrass regrows when harvested a few inches higher

click here


Below is an article taken from the American Society of Agronomy’s “Crops & Soils Magazine”.  It highlights a few reasons why in some regions orchardgrass stands aren’t lasting as long as they used to.  One big reason – harvest management (or cutting orchardgrass too low).  Cutting height makes a huge difference.  Raising the cutting bar today equals more hay in a quicker time frame tomorrow.