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Laying the groundwork

THE 2022 MFA FORAGE TOUR ON JULY 13 at the University of Missouri’s Southwest Research Extension and Education Center (SW-REEC), located about four miles southwest of Mt. Vernon, Mo., demonstrated what Mother Nature’s extremes can do to the best-laid plans.

Jay Chism, director of the SW-REEC, began laying the groundwork for a new forage research partnership between MU and MFA in the winter of 2021. Trials would include warm-season annual forages such as sorghum-sudan and fertiliz­er applications. Little did he know that the weather was not going to cooperate.

“As with any year, the weather plays a key role in the success or failure of any forage plots we plant,” Chism said. “This year, the challenges were especially evident.”

Rain, rain and more rain fell across Missouri in the spring. During the month of April, southwest Missouri saw more than 4.5 inches of the wet stuff, and then almost 10 inches fell in May.

It was tricky just to get the forage test plots in the ground, said Matt Massie, senior research agronomist at SW-REEC.

“We waited on the rain and just had a window of one or two days. The plots were planted much later than normal,” he said. “But then the fields dried quick­ly as temperatures got up into the high 90s, with many days over 100 degrees during June and July. The area near the river bottom dried up hard and fast. It was just like concrete down there.”

With lack of rain, growth was slow, and the test plots did not demonstrate what researchers had hoped, said Landry Jones, MFA Incorporated conserva­tion grazing specialist, who helped organize the Forage Tour.

“What you see in the test plots is not what those plants are capable of, but even with very little moisture, there is some growth,” Jones pointed out to MFA staff and customers during the July tour. “This area received .001 inch of rain since June 8. It’s clear that you need rainfall and fertility for a good harvest. The plots got the fertility, they just did not get the rainfall.”

Massie added that if the plots had been planted in May, they would have been harvested in July. “We could still potentially get a couple of cuttings,” he told the tour group, “but it’s looking dreary right now because the forecast is less favorable. But that’s life in south­west Missouri.”

Once the growing season and harvest were complete, Chism confirmed in early 2023 that the severe drought at the SW-REEC limited the number of cuttings and total yield.

“Having plot work each year in all kinds of weather conditions provides the best information for the producers in the area,” he said. “Not any one forage works in all locations, but if we have good randomized and replicated forage plot research, we can offer real data from southwest Missouri soils.”

Chism said he appreciates MFA’s investment in MU’s plot work and would like to see the work expand to perennial forages.

“Forages drive the cattle business,” he said. “Understanding how to maximize the forage base in the area and using annual forages to increase the ton per acre can help contribute to a cattle producer’s bottom line.”

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

After viewing the sorghum-sudan test plots, the tour group visited a local producer’s farm to learn about Corteva weed-con­trol trials with DuraCor, a herbicide that provides extended control of more than 140 weeds while maintaining grass safety. Nutritious grasses are able to thrive, making each acre more productive.

Tests compared impregnated and non-impregnated fertilizer applications, broadcast spraying and timing of applications. Im­pregnation is the process of applying a concentrated herbicide solution to dry fertilizer granules during blending, allowing plant nutrients and weed-control products to be spread at the same time. Corteva, the manufacturer of DuraCor, refers to this fertilizer impregnation system as UltiGraz.

After seeing the untreated control plot, which was overgrown with weeds, attendees viewed plots that had various degrees of control. The trials demonstrated that timing and type of prod­uct do matter when it comes to weed control, said David Moore, MFA range and pasture specialist. The earlier you tackle the weeds, he stressed, the better.

“We missed a fair amount of weeds in the plots that received the later herbicide applications,” Moore said. “The weeds got too far ahead of us. When we use an im­pregnated fertilizer, it works as a pre-emergent product. So those weeds were already out of the ground, and we’re behind the 8-ball.”

To help reduce weed competition in forage fields, Jones said that nothing is going to beat spraying, but the Ulti­Graz system has its place.

in early summer to spray their pastures or their hay fields,” he said. “Impregnation saves that step and can be very important to an operation, depending on how busy they are or if they have the equipment to spray.”

Expecting the unexpected from Mother Nature should be a part of the plan, Jones empha­sized.

“A lot of folks, especially in southern Missouri, get out early and spread fertilizer on cool-sea­son grass pastures. Most of the time that works because, in a typical spring, we’re getting consistent rains,” he explained. “Temperatures are slowly warming up and that goes right in line with what fertilizers need to be incorporated into the soil. However, issues arise when we are not protecting the nitrogen, and we hope for the perfect weather scenario.”

This past spring was far from perfect. Too much rain early in the season followed by hot, dry conditions are “the two worst things” in forage production, Jones said.

“The rain dilutes the nitrogen, which can cause runoff and leaching,” he said. “Heat can cause volatilization, and nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere before we get rain to incorporate it.”

Jones advised growers to use a product such as SuperU, a urea-based granule with a built-in stabilizer, to guard against above- and below-ground nitrogen loss, volatilization, leaching and denitrification.

“I would recommend using SuperU any time, especially during spring application,” he said. “With the high cost of fertilizer, when we can optimize or be more efficient with that nitrogen use, then the better off we’ll be from a dollar-and-cent standpoint as well as from a forage utili­zation standpoint.”

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX

Moore, Jones and Chism are planning and preparing for the 2023 MFA Forage Tour. Because of last year’s weather, they are going to repeat some of the same trials and hope for more normal conditions. Due to the drought, foxtail was a common weed problem for many producers, so the tour will also examine herbicide products to combat it.

“We are looking at viable herbicide and fertility applications that can improve forage production and profitability for our producers,” Jones said. “The pro­ducer we are partnering with has a very diversified operation. His forages include Kentucky 31 fescue, novel endophyte fescue and native warm-season grasses. He also incorporates rotational grazing, so we are going to highlight his management tech­niques.”

No matter the challenges or composition of these trials, keeping MFA staff and customers informed with the most pertinent and up-to-date information is the goal of the research and the tour, he added.

“We don’t want to get pigeonholed into one way of doing things,” Jones said. “When we think outside the box, many times we find better ways to manage pastures and farms. We can share that information with our producers to serve them better.”

For more information on forage pro­duction, contact Landry Jones at ljones@ mfa-inc.com or David Moore at dmoore@ mfa-inc.com.

Related Story: Five ways to drought-proof your forages by David Moore

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