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Keeping Forages in Focus During the Offseason

The winter of 2012/13 will be one to remember for anyone is the business of producing and/or feeding forages.  Region wide winterkill including parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Canada resulted in a tight supply and high demand market that to some extend continues today.  Hindsight points a finger at rain events occurring over these areas in January and February resulting in ice sheeting and eventually plant (crown) suffocation.  An extended winter and slow spring growth added additional plant injury and death while delaying first harvest of legumes and grasses whether in fields or pastures.

Moving to the winter of 2013/14, in which it already feels extended.  Forage producers are curious about the effects of the cold spell that was experienced at the end of December and into January.  Of concern were the temperatures that were recorded and the duration of the cold spell. Forage Specialist Dr. Dan Undersander of the U of WI produced a news release in response to the weather events thus far.  In summary, with the temperatures experienced, snow cover depth at that time, and an understanding of lethal temperatures at the growing point location, perennial forage plants should have survival success. Plants at this time of year are at their strongest dormancy provided stresses were minimized prior to season’s end.  Does this mean there won’t be winter injury this winter?  That is yet to be determined as typically most injury and death occurs late winter in Feb/March with warming temperatures to break dormancy too early and melting snow causing standing water and ice.

Continuing with a forages concentration, Dr. Scotty Wells from the University of North Carolina has been hired by the University of Minnesota as the state forage and cropping systems specialist.  He began his career here in early December. He has started the process of working with the forage team in putting together research and programming plans for 2014.  To date we have focused on delivering three regional forage based programs across the state.  With specifics to follow in time, Fergus Falls (March 26), St. Charles (March 27), and Kingston (March 28) are the event sites with agendas developed for discussion and teaching towards current production issues.

On a final note, seeding decisions are being made for this spring. Keep in mind the importance of species and variety selection.  All too often I work with producers who have decided a particular grass species is going to be a component of a forage mixture and then gather whichever variety is easiest available at the closest retailer.  For example, I challenge that as much or more thought should go into which orchardgrass variety to get as it took to determine orchardgrass was the species to include.  Take the time to identify your needs related to disease resistance, persistence, maturity and production distribution throughout the growing season.  This may result in having to order the desired variety from the local distributer or driving a little further to get what is needed.  There is no other crop as significant in putting the right genetics into the ground with the projected stand life targeted at four to six years with good management.

Douglas Holen Jr., Extension Educator, University of Minnesota


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Nathan Winter
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems
(320) 484-4303
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