Native grasses can provide pasture peace of mind

This winter’s weather has been hard on pastures. Between weaning calves and feeding hay, we have several areas on our farm that need to be rehabbed or reclaimed to get ready for the spring growing season. Many producers— myself included—rely on cool-sea­son grass or summer annuals for a hay crop. If you haven’t started to consider what to plant in those fields, now is the time.

As you’re making those decisions, take a look at native warm-season grass (NWSG). This forage comes back every year, requires less fer­tilizer and produces tonnage that rivals any perennial or annual you can plant. Most folks are aware of the benefits of NWSG for grazing opportunities, but these grasses can make a great hay crop as well.

The key to having a good NWSG field is proper establishment and proper management. The first step is to obtain soil samples to make sure that any necessary soil amendments can be applied prior to spring planting. Before planting, the current forage needs to be killed with a non-selective herbicide. Also, just prior to or shortly after planting, I recommend spraying a pre-emergent herbicide such as Panoramic with the active ingre­dient Imazapic. This herbicide was formulated to suppress weeds and cool-season grasses but allows NWSG to germinate and grow during establishment.

NWSG is typically drilled with a native grass drill in the spring from April to June, depending on your location. Plant into a clean seed bed no deeper than ¼ inch. I tell folks that you want to see about half of the seed you are planting laying on top of the ground. The two biggest reasons that NWSG plantings fail is planting too deep or the seedlings being out-competed by weeds. Once planted, keep a close eye on weed competition through the summer and be prepared to spray the proper herbicide to reduce competition. Be sure to follow the herbicide label to prevent injury to NWSG seedlings.

Managing NWSG can be prob­lematic for producers who are not familiar with it. Remember that the first growing season will be dedicat­ed to allowing the NWSG to grow, and no hay harvest should be made. Depending on the vigor of the stand, the second year a single hay cutting may be made.

After the establishment years, try to avoid cutting NWSG for hay until the end of June. Keep in mind that if you are using state or federal cost-share funds, this date may change due to program policy. This start date accomplishes two things. First, it allows ground-nesting birds an opportunity to have a successful hatch. Second, it allows the plants to reach optimum quantity and still produce good-quality hay.

For the health and longevity of the NWSG stand, do not cut it too late in the growing season—gener­ally after Sept. 15 or about 30-45 days prior to frost. This allows the plants to put their next year’s grow­ing reserves into their root system. If you cut it too late, you interrupt this process and weaken the stand for the following year.

You may be saying, “I have to wait two years before I can poten­tially get my first cutting?” This is correct, but you have to look at the long-term value in this grass. It can produce up to 4 tons per acre of forage. Its optimum time to cut is in the summer when you are typically not dodging rain showers to put up hay like most folks who are cutting cool-season grasses. It requires less fertilizer than fescue and doesn’t produce ergovaline like fescue that restricts blood flow in cattle. If you remember 2012 and 2018, when fescue dried up due to drought, NWSG was actively growing, and producers were able to get two cuttings off those fields. Not only is NWSG a great forage, it is great insurance.

If you are interested in planting native warm-season grass on your farm or potential cost-share pro­grams available, contact me or any of your local conservation offices for more information.

Landry Jones joined MFA as conservationLandry Jones joined MFA as conservation grazing specialist in southwest Missouri in December 2019 after more than 12 years with the Missouri Department of Conservation, where he managed both public and private lands. Landry lives in Polk County, Mo., with his wife of 10 years and their two daughters.

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The 1,000 variables

93floodMany producers in MFA territory compared last year's flooding to the Great Flood of 1993, shown here in a stock photo of inundated Missouri farmland.I was 4 years old when the Flood of ’93 swept across the bottoms of Ray County, Mo. In its path was the ground my family has owned for generations. I still remember the rush to get things from the homes of my uncles and grand­mother before the floods crested and ruined a century’s worth of irreplaceable family heirlooms and photos. While those childhood memories are vivid, I realize that they, in no way, compare to the experiences of farmers whose livelihoods were in ruins that year.

Fast forward nearly 26 years to a similar story for most of the Mid­west. This is a story that is all too common for the American farmer. If it’s not floods, it’s a drought. If it’s not disease, it’s insects. After being in the ag industry for nearly 10 years now, there is one adage embedded in my brain:

“The American farmer faces 1,000 variables on any given year. If you farm in Missouri, you can about guarantee you’ll see 999 of them.”

You’ve likely heard a version of this statement before, and to most farmers, it couldn’t be truer. However, risk management can minimize those “1,000 variables,” and MFA has 26 people to help you do just that.

Blake Thomas PhotoBlake Thomas joined MFA as area crop insurance agent in August 2019. he previously managed a privately owned farm service retailer, where he specialized in agronomy.These 26 people are our licensed crop insurance agents across Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Illinois and Arkansas who can help reduce the risks that producers may come across. You may already know these agents through their current positions with MFA in precision, seed and feed sales, etc.

These agents, including myself, are led by MFA Crop Insurance Principal Agent Mike Smith, who has 30 years of crop insurance experience under his belt.

By providing educational opportunities while simultaneously helping producers with current and long-term risk management strategy, we are able to put the knowledge and know-how back into the grower’s hands. In addition, we are bringing the service and trust that MFA Incor­porated is known for among farmers and the agricultural industry.

Though we cannot stop these “variables” from happening, given the opportunity to understand your operation and review your current policy, we hope to prove ourselves as your new agent.

IMPORTANT DATES TO REMEMBER

These are just a few important dates that pertain to spring-planted crops. There are numerous dates involved with crop insurance. Many of the dates are specific to location. I encourage you to visit with one of our local agents to confirm dates that are important to your farming operation.

February 1-28: Price discovery for spring-planted crops (differs slightly in some areas).

March 15: Spring crops sales closing date (differs slightly in some areas).

April 29: Deadline to report last year’s spring crops production.

July 15: Deadline to report 2019 planted acres for spring crops.

October 1-31: Harvest price discovery period for spring crops.

November 15: Sales closing date for pasture, rangeland and forage.

December 10: End of insurance period and last day to turn in a claim.

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Attracting agriculture students

A first-of-its-kind agricultural magnet school is ex­pected to open in Springfield, Mo., in August 2021, thanks to a $6.5 million gift to Missouri State University by the Darr Family Foundation. The magnet school is expected to serve up to 150 elementary students—likely grades 4 through 6—and will be operated by Springfield Public Schools.

Springfield Schools Superintendent John Jungmann said the “historic investment” will allow the state’s largest district to provide an intense, hands-on experience for students inter­ested in agricultural-related careers. Up to $4 million of the donation will be earmarked for the school structure, which will be constructed on university property at the William H. Darr Agricultural Center. Plans call for a 16,500-square-foot building with six classrooms, a commercial-grade kitchen, greenhouse, laboratory space and gardens. The gift will also allow the uni­versity to design and build a 12,500-square-foot small animal education facility, including laboratories, indoor and outdoor runs and an observation hall.

The Darr Family Foundation was established in 2002 by William H. (Bill) Darr and his family to “empower at-risk youth to overcome barriers to opportunity.” The Springfield business­man is the founder of pet food ingredient providers American Dehydrated Foods and International Dehydrated Foods.

Darr, the namesake of MSU’s College of Agriculture, has been a staunch supporter of public education, said the university’s president, Clif Smart. He said the university and the Springfield area will benefit from exposing students to the wide variety of agriculture and agribusiness careers.

“Gifts from the Darr Family Foundation have completely transformed our College of Agriculture,” Smart said. “This gift will allow us to further expand our programs to better serve the needs of southwest Missouri.”

Springfield Public Schools will pay for instructional and support staff. The district currently operates a string of magnet programs outside of traditional school buildings, but none of them are focused on agriculture, a top industry in the Ozarks, Jungmann said. The district plans to partner with the univer­sity so students attending the new magnet will have access to resources within the College of Agriculture.

“The addition of an agriculture magnet school is an important part of a broader effort to enhance workforce development by ensuring our students are better prepared for a variety of college and career opportunities,” Jungmann said. “It’s just a natural fit.”

The Darr Family Foundation will give the money over a five-year period with the final installment made by the end of 2023.

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