Building Soil with Forages in Rotation

We include forages in our rotation. In late September we disced perennial grass fields to put back into annual crops. We will seed other fields into alfalfa grass mixtures for hay and grazing, as we need a certain amount of acres for feed production.

Why use forages in a crop rotation?

We have some areas that are high in salinity where we will be planting alfalfa. The idea is that alfalfa, with its deep tap root, will prevent water from percolating upwards and bringing salt up, which would keep the salt below the root zone. We want actively growing plants to prevent this percolating which moves salt.

Some of these fields have been in forage for 25 years, but recommendations are that 3-4 years of red clover or alfalfa can be beneficial to the soil. It was actually probably past time to either rejuvenate (break up and re-seed to forage) these stands or switch to an annual crop for a period of time. Statistically the yield of a hay/grass stand after year 7 or 8 has been reduced enough to support rejuvenation. One field has been grazed for a number of years and has badger holes. These holes present a hazard for cattle that could drop a leg into one, rejuvenating the field would clean this up and eliminate that concern.

We also have another field that has poor drainage on some of it and salinity issues on other areas that we plan to put into forage for hay production. This switch of acres in forage allows us to address those soil issues in a positive way while still maintaining the amount of feed we produce.

How are we transitioning?

Two fields were sprayed with glyphosate on September 10th to kill the plants. Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, meaning it will kill most broadleaf plants and grasses when applied to the leaves. Glyphosate stops a specific enzyme pathway, that is necessary for plants to grow.  These fields will be disced twice then harrowed sometime this fall, depending on weather. This is primarily to work out the gopher and badger holes that make things rough on equipment. In addition, the crowns/bunches of the grass make for a very uneven seedbed. As the depth control mechanism on the seeder goes over a crown of grass the seed (which is supposed to go down 1 inch) may not be going into the ground at all.

In the spring there will probably be a pre-seed burn off then seeding to an annual crop. After that this land will probably not be tilled for several years as we use no-till seeding equipment, which has minimal soil disturbance.

Since October 1st there has been no field work done. It has rained and snowed. Some of the fields are still inaccessible. The dirt and gravel roads are still too muddy.  We may not even get to disc one of the fields a second time, unless the weather co-operates.

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