How Farmers & Growers Have Adapted to COVID-19

2019 was a difficult year from farmers and growers, as they faced a number of weather-related issues that resulted in a middling growing season overall. However, 2020 has quickly proven to be a far greater challenge, as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced large scale shutdowns of both national and global supply chains. The result has been that many grocery stores and restaurants either cannot or will not accept agreed upon inventory, leaving farmers to repurpose their existing crops and livestock. This is not even considering the significant health risks, as most agriculture professionals simply do not have the option to turn to remote work like many other industries have in the face of this crisis. 

It is a stressful situation, with news reports showing American farmers dumping milk and burning crops due to shutdowns and lagging demand. Yet despite this doom and gloom imagery, there are many agricultural professionals who have not let these trials wear them down. Instead, they have risen to the occasion, coming up with new and novel alternatives to keep operations going. These farmers, growers, and business owners serve as an example for everyone in the industry, offering potential guidance and inspiration through their actions. 

Community Agriculture & Home Delivery

It is little surprise that most farms have seen the side of their businesses centered around restaurants and farmers markets crater over the past few months, but many have found ways to lessen the damage by instead investing in local, community-centric options. Community support agriculture (or CSA) is booming right now, with programs across the country reporting a surge in memberships. Others are doubling down on home delivery options, with some farmers approaching all-time high revenues by selling to people instead of restaurants. 

As has been the case with many other industries, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerabilities of the U.S. agribusiness supply chain, showing just how ill-prepared these systems were to handle a crisis on the scale of the Coronavirus. Even the U.S. government has recognized how viable the CSA model is during these trying times, as they recently put in $3 billion in contracts for farmers to deliver fresh produce and dairy boxes to local food banks across the country. All of this shows that the model is worthwhile, at least as an alternative to more traditional agribusiness supply chains. 

The Digitization of Farming & Forages

A common narrative that we’re seeing right now is that COVID-19 has forced professionals across almost every industry to rethink their relationships with technology. Companies have taken digital transformation plans that were expected to occur over a five-year period and have instead have fully implemented them in a matter of weeks. With so much uncertainty, businesses need every possible edge to stay competitive and profitable, and agriculture is no exception to this. 

As an example, Farmers Edge CEO Wade Barnes has argued that the COVID-19 pandemic will push for the greater digitization of farms, as there are a number of digital tools that could simplify the complex communications among farms, seed companies, insurance agents, and other stakeholders. We’ve already seen a number of farms embracing new technologies to better meet the demands of the pandemic, from autonomous planting robots to wearable tech for health screening purposes

What The Future Holds

There’s no telling exactly what the post-pandemic world is going to look like, but one thing that is apparent is that U.S. farmers and growers are more than capable of adapting to that world. Rather than just rushing to go back to “business as usual,” the COVID-19 pandemic can serve as an opportunity to address our systems’ faults and to introduce innovative new solutions. This is a time of crisis, but it is also a time to learn, grow, and improve, so that once the pandemic is truly over, we can come back stronger than ever.  

Alternative Forage Crops: How Farmers & Growers Adapted to Extreme Weather Events

Though the past few years have seen a number of weather-related challenges for farmers, the 2019 growing and harvest seasons were easily among the most difficult seasons that growers had ever experienced. Several regions had to deal with severe winterkill and an excessively wet fall, while others struggled with below average precipitation and drought. All of this came with little-to-no warning, meaning that the forage growing season and the inventories that followed were heavily compromised. 

However, American farmers and growers are nothing if not determined: in the face of the numerous challenges they experienced throughout 2019, farmers turned to a number of alternative forage species and growing strategies to fill the gap. With highly volatile weather having become a common occurrence, it is clear that selecting alternative forage crops isn’t just a one-off solution during a down period, but a necessity to stay agile and competitive. As such, it is important to take note of how farmers and growers across the country are answering the call and adapting to changing environmental considerations. 

The Challenges of Extreme Weather 

Extremes have come to define the past few years, with 2019 in particular seeing a series of erratic and highly unpredictable weather events that caught many farmers and growers flat footed. Simply put, whether it was hot or cold, wet or dry, the weather hit harder than usual, offering little warning for the damage it was bound to cause. All of this led to serious complications for the planting, growing, and storage of many common crops and forage grasses. 

With the weather staying wet well past the normal planting dates for corn and beans, some growers simply did not have enough healthy plants to produce a full crop. The wet soil resulted in heavy compacting, which in turn led to poor drainage, lost nutrients, and far more weeds than forage. Even if growers did manage to get a decent crop, many also had to suffer through major dry spells, which further hindered crop production and storage. Worst of all, in some areas this has been the norm for years, with Midwest farmers and growers citing heavy rain and unseasonably mild winters as the cause of some of their worst hay yields in nearly a decade

The Search For Viable Alternatives 

In response to the multitude of weather problems that plagued growers throughout 2019, there was a push to find viable alternative crops that could either better endure the inclement weather. Whatever the specifics of their situations, growers needed to get some kind of feed from their acres, which led to a number of “unfamiliar” feeds seeing use. If it could be windrowed and chopped, farmers tried it: small grain silages, ryegrass, sorghum sudangrass, forage peas, soybean silage. The variety was astounding, demonstrating the need to both produce new crops and renovate pastures. 

In many cases, growers needed to find crops that could be planted earlier than corn or soybeans, though even as farmers and producers found new options to fill these gap, new challenges would become apparent. For instance, some growers turned to fast-maturing crops like sunflowers, buckwheat, and cowpeas, unaware that some of herbicides used earlier in the season might be incompatible with their new alternatives. Like any experiments, there will be both successes and failures, so although not all of these alternative crops worked out, on the whole it helped growers stay competitive during an uncertain harvest. 

Lessons For 2020 & Beyond

With three or four ground freeze and thaw episodes already in the late autumn, there are already reasons to be wary of just how much existing alfalfa acreage will survive the winter, especially coming off of the heels of one of the most difficult growing seasons in recent memory. Yet the 2019 season have prepared growers for what is on the horizon, teaching them the importance of fast action and adapting to the sudden changes that mother nature can throw at you. Plus, despite all of the frustration that 2019 brought, many growers made the best of these extreme conditions, with reports suggesting bright spots for hay exports and at least mild improvements to acreage, yield, and production across the board

This is all very impressive given just how middling a growing season it was overall, and it goes to show that this type of experimentation isn’t just something that should be pursued to fill gaps in more traditional practices, but because they can be commercially viable in their own right. Whether by double cropping, using cover crops, breaking up of customary crop rotations, or accommodating manure applications throughout the growing season, there are numerous methods that be leveraged to make the growing process a little more effective, and with so many alternatives to the more traditional crops, there are doubtlessly some options that would work best your growing strategies! 

High-Forage Diets More Important than Ever – by Larry Hawkins

With grain prices soaring due to ethanol production and no end in sight, dairy producers are facing new realities in profitable diet formulation for today’s high producing dairy cows. This new reality is that producers are looking for less expensive alternatives to corn to push production.

Some have gone the route of using more byproducts to replace grain. However, regardless of how inexpensive the byproduct is, it still must be purchased! Others have looked at using various warm- and cool-season grasses due to the higher digestibility of these forages.

Higher digestibility is the key to energy value in any feed. The cool grasses and small grains in this guide as well as Alta Gene-Six forage sorghums and sorghum sudan crosses, provide the two most important attributes to high-forages feeding. Number one is very simple—you can’t feed more forage unless you have more forage. The warm season grasses and triticales provide double cropping and crop rotation opportunities that are less available in straight alfalfa and corn silage rotations. The tall fescues (in the upper Midwest) provide added tons (1 to 1½ tons DM per acre) when partnered with alfalfa. These crops allow for higher forage production on the same acres. Obviously, yield per acre is a huge driving force on any cropping operation.

The second essential factor in high-forage feeding is quality (read “energy”). Energy takes up the most room in any diet and so it is vital to get energy-dense ingredients into a diet that still provides digestible fiber. Remember wheat straw has fiber, but little energy! Again it is very simple—you can’t get much milk feeding higher amounts of average-quality forages. A few years ago, at the Four State Dairy Nutrition Conference, a report was presented which showed that as larger dairies fed more corn silage and less alfalfa, less manure was produced and more of the feed was turned into milk. The range of feeding was 25/75 to 75/25. With this change, 14 lbs less DM of manure was produced. It is simple to understand if we look at the NDF-d’s of alfalfa (40 to 50%) compared to corn silage (50 to 60%). Including even higher digestible grass in the mix tilts the bar even more in your favor.

NDF represents a measure of the energy in the less digestible part of a feed. To most nutritionists NDF represents a negative—the higher the NDF (the less digestible part) the lower the energy. However, as more is being learned about NDF-d, we are seeing the old rules, i.e. 0.9% of body weight of forage NDF being the absolute limit on the amount of forage a cow could eat (due to rumen fill) being reconsidered. Our previous notion that all NDF is alike is now being blown out of the water. The new reality here is that as digestibility goes up, more forage can be fed without a negative production effect.

The table below shows how the inter-seeding of modern European bred cool season grasses into alfalfa fields has changed the game. The chart below is from the results of the 2011 World Dairy Expo Forage Analysis Super Bowl. In each category of forage the average stats of the pure alfalfas are exceeded by the mixtures of grass and alfalfa. In addition, in the dairy hay category, the best grass mix was 2nd. In dairy haylage, the best grass mixes were 1st, 2nd and 4th. And in balage, the grass/alfalfa mixes were 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

The really telling category is when you compare the commercial hay division, which had virtually no grass, to the grass hay category. The average digestibility of the pure grasses was 73.8% (NDF-d). This can also be compared to the best corn silages, where the average of the top ten BMR samples averaged 62% NDF-d. The weighted average of all the alfalfa finalists is close to 47% NDF-d.

The good news is that we now have modern European improved grasses, which really deserve a place in modern dairy diets and other high performance livestock diets. The big improvement is the late-headedness, which allows for timely cutting where both the alfalfa and the grass are at optimum maturities.

Byron Seeds, LLC is attuned to selecting and managing the establishment of both cool- and warm-season grasses to fit your farm wherever it is in the Midwest. The answers are not the same in every area we work in, but your local Byron Seed dealer will have this information about the crops that will help you achieve a more prosperous future.

Pasture Management – by Dwayne Colvin

Good pasture management can add years of life to your pasture. Protect your investment by following these pasture management tips:

  • Start with varieties that suit your soil, moisture, and grazing requirements. Byron Seeds personnel are available to help with the proper selection of varieties.
  • Orchardgrass will stay stronger if allowed to grow taller and make hay once a year
  • Grass tillers are the future of the stand, ryegrass, festulolium, and bluegrass tiller more when the stand is kept short, tall pastures can shade emerging tillers, decreasing pasture life
  • A pasture that is kept short will allow white clover to flourish, a longer pasture favors grasses
  • Good grazing management in the spring will help reduce seed heads


  • A rhizomatous, sod forming grass that tolerates heavy hoof traffic, heals damaged pastures
  • Is short, very dense with very palatable, fine leaves; can take over if other varieties thin out
  • Is very persistent and can be close grazed, best for rotational grazing with rest periods


  • Performs best in rotational grazing with adequate recovery period, don’t overgraze
  • Adapts to the better, well drained soils, light- to medium-textured
  • Works well in mixes because of its shade tolerant qualities
  • Don’t graze too short or overgraze in droughty conditions

Perennial Ryegrass & Festulolium

  • Best for intensive grazing, will fade with lax grazing methods, start at the 3 leaf stage
  • Best forage variety for both yield and animal nutrition, palatability and digestion
  • Keep short, 8 to 10 inches or less for optimum
  • Requires close management and fertility for persistence, expect 3 to 4 years of good production

Tall Fescue

  • Good fall production, can be stockpiled in the fall for winter grazing
  • Does not persist well if overgrazed in drought and high heat conditions
  • Adopted to wetter and heavier soil types than orchardgrass
  • Can be inter-seeded in the fall to boost pasture production
  • Takes lax management better than orchardgrass and ryegrass


  • Excellent for hay or pasture, use a late heading variety for grazing
  • Does not do well under heavy grazing pressure
  • Slow to establish, does well on low, wet and heavy textured soils
  • Good for dry cows as it has low potassium uptake

Meadow Fescue

  • Very winter hardy
  • Best pasture grass for the Upper Midwest
  • Very persistent and very palatable
  • Good for wetter areas

World Forage Analysis Superbowl 2011 Rankings

You are looking at the best in the world. These tables list the finalists at the World Forage Analysis Superbowl competition. The Forage Superbowl at World Dairy Expo is the premier testing ground for the forage industry.

These results irrefutably demonstrate that Byron Seeds products are among the best forages in the world, again, just like in 2010, (and every year before that.) What does this mean for you? Winning the Superbowl isn’t about trophies, it’s about picking money makers for the farm industry. To have success on your farm, you need the best available forages, and Byron Seeds does that for you. Through research, we work hard to find the best forages because your success is important to us.

Contact us and be part of the winning team.

Myco Seed Treat

Myco is a complete microbial seed treatment package that includes a high concentration of dormant beneficial microorganisms and an initial food source. Included are free-living and symbiotic bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, algae and mycorrhizal fungi. Once the seed is planted,

the microbes start to grow and multiply. The crop benefits by the beneficial microorganisms freeing up nutrients and extending the reach of the crop root. In addition, they compete against detrimental microbes. The microbes benefit from living off root exudates (organic compounds and sugars). The end result is better soil cycling, more uniform stands and increased plant growth.

KingFisher Myco has been tailored to forage species, but does not include or replace Rhizobium inoculants which are needed for proper legume nitrogen fixation. Myco Seed Treat is compatible with Rhizobium inoculants and most other seed treatments.

All of KingFisher’s mixtures are treated with Myco Seed Treat to improve stand establishment. Myco is approved for use on organic operations by the USDA.

Beef Production in the Midwest 4 Shortfalls and 6 Steps to Sucess – by Ernest Weaver

The Midwest has long been known for quality beef production, but profitable beef production has not been the automatic right of Midwestern farmers. Let’s look at a bit of history and try to learn lessons that will help us produce quality beef at a profit.

My friend, Steve Wallace, Senior Forage Agronomist for Barenbrug USA, will tell us that in the 50’s and 60’s the Midwest not only finished most of the calves it produced, but also IMPORTED cattle from the West! The 70’s and 80’s however, saw this scenario reversed. By the 90’s, many of our calves and the grain to feed them were being shipped to the West and Southwest. The Midwest is on the rise again. We have the feed right here, don’t we?? Why not keep the industry here? Isn’t finishing our own cattle a profit “slam dunk”? Beware though,finishing cattle can be very profitable, but if we are not prudent it can finish our bank account!

I would like to point out 4 mistakes many in the Midwest beef industry have made.

  1. Failure to provide quality pasture for brood cows and calves. This has caused poor herd health, lousy conception rates, and light, stunted calves. Not only have we fed poor quality forage [especially hay] but also fed our cattle tons of poisoned feed. Ever hear of fescue toxicity?? Our pastures are the most used, most important part of our beef operations and yet too often they receive the least attention.
  2. Failure to provide quality feed in July and August. Our cool season pastures often suffer from summer slump and many producers simply let their cows stumble through the drought even though there are many options such as warm season annuals and perennials to keep our cows in top shape.
  3. Failure to provide quality feed in the winter months. A diet consisting of mostly mature KY-31 is what the majority of beef cows exist on from October through March. This is a significant factor leading to a loss of profit!
  4. Failure to provide the quality feed program for weaned calves. Weaned calves need quality feed not unlike what a high producing Holstein cow needs. With a feed program like that we can background calves efficiently even if we do not finish them.

There are a growing number of highly successful beef producers from the Midwest.

What are they doing differently from the normal producers?

  1. They are taking or have taken definite steps to get rid of the choke hold of KY-31.Tell me one good reason to feed poison to any cow? There aren’t any. These farmers are taking excellent care of their land. They maintain a better stand than most KY-31 farms have. They generally are increasing the organic matter content in their soil. They are better protectors of the land; more efficient in their use of resources.
  2. These successful farmers use good grassland management. They manage the production of pasture and hay ground as carefully as any cash cropper manages his corn. They use good grazing practices, fertilize judiciously, and do not abuse their pasture. They also use wisdom in selecting the right blend of forages for the need.
  3. They keep good forage available for their cattle at all times. Good farmers use a wide range of forages in pasture, hay, and stockpile as the need arises because their cattle deserve more than “junk” forage.
  4. They use quality forage to “background”. This allows them to put hundreds of economical pounds on their calves before selling them or finishing them. A good backgrounding program is low risk and is an easy way to have value added cattle.
  5. These farmers also manage waste. Combining a grazing management program and good manure collection facilities, they can turn their waste into a good fertilizer program. The loss of animal waste on Midwest farm land has been one reason for the wide spread loss of soil organic matter.
  6. These cattlemen also often use quality forage to assist in an economical and safe finishing program for fat steers. Cattle were created to thrive on forage. When we use quality forages the entire life of the cattle we tap into a resource that we will not improve on.

Forage Management Traits

Listed below are some key traits to consider in the pursuit of managing our forages.

  1. Use the best forage genetics available. Low quality forages do not have a place in rations for today’s prolific livestock. Forage quality starts with the genetics in the seed that many take for granted.
  2. Maintain good soil fertility and balance. Soil fertility does affect forage yields and quality.
  3. Plan a crop rotation to fit your ration goals. Use a variety of forages to increase soil organic matter and reduce weed pressure, disease problems, crop failures, and enhance nutrient management plans, etc.
  4. Use good management to grow, harvest, and store top quality forages. Forages can lose 20% or more of their nutrient value during a poor fermentation.
  5. Feed a high forage ration. Forage DM should make up 60% or more of the ration. Well-eared corn silage should be figured at approximately 50% grain and 50% forage on a DM basis. An accurate way to calculate this is divide the starch percent of the corn silage by .70 (the amount of starch in corn. Eg 37% (starch in your corn silage) divided by 0.7 = approximately 53% corn and 47% fodder.
  6. Feed sources of starch that are highly available, such as the starch found in Masters Choice corn hybrids. The % of starch when using MC corn hybrids should not exceed 25% of ration dry matter.
  7. Target sugar concentrations of 6-10% of the ration DM. Take advantage of the high sugars in the NDF of grasses
  8. Feed a combination of warm season and cool season grasses to maximize rumen function.

Management of a grass stand will dictate which grasses survive. How tall should grasses be to start grazing depends on: grass species, weather and the time of year.

  • When a pasture gets “out of control”, up to 70% will produce seed heads.
  • In a well managed pasture, 20 % will produce seed heads.
  • When Perennial Ryegrass has 2 ½ – 3 new leaves, grazing can be started.
  • For Tall Fescue, 3 – 3 ½ leaves.
  • After the 4th leaf comes on, the 1st leaf dies.
  • Do not cut or graze below the growing point.
  • Orchardgrasses have bigger tillers, but not as many.

Keep plants on the rapid growth curve.

Original Source:Byron Seeds 2010 Resource Guide.

World Dairy Expo 2011 Forage Analysis Super Bowl Commentary – by Larry Hawkins

Byron Seeds had a banner year at the Dairy Expo with their results (see chart above) in the 2011 Forage Analysis Super Bowl (FASB). The biggest successes were in the Dairy Haylage and Baleage categories where Grass/Alfalfa samples captured 12 out of 20 places and 6 out of ten, respectively.

These entrants captured seven of the combined top four spots in these categories (i.e. 1st, 2nd & 4th in haylage and 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th in baleage). Six of these entries were submitted by Byron Seed customers and one was a Byron Seed grass variety submitted by someone else. One other interesting note, a major national forage seed company submitted 22 entries (all pure alfalfa) to the Dairy Haylage category and had only 2 finalists. There were 16 submissions by Byron Seed customers of which 10 were finalists!

Byron also had many high finishers in the Dairy Hay and Grass Hay categories. Of all of these entrants (hay, haylage and baleage), a majority also had a Byron KingFisher alfalfa paired with our grasses.

As always, our Masters Choice corn silage entrants also did extremely well. From the chart below, you can see how we compared to the BMR’s entered. This chart shows the averages of the top ten finishers of each, Masters Choice and Mycogen’s BMR. As you can see, BMR appears to have an advantage in Crude Protein. However, the extra protein is largely prolamin, a low quality (unavailable) protein that also encapsulates starch molecules. This encapsulation renders the starch unavailable until after intensive fermentation (proteolysis or breakdown of protein) takes place. This has been shown to take up to 6 to 10 months. On most farms this means that a good portion of the corn silage is fed before it reaches its best quality! This prolamine formation is the difference between floury (like MC) corn and flinty corn (BMR is some of the most flinty corn available short of popcorn!).

2011 World Dairy Expo FASB Corn Silage Results
Type Crude Protien Starch NDF-D % Milk/Ton
Masters Choice 7.3% 35.3% 59% 3400 Ibs
BMR’s 8.1% 31.2% 62% 3406 Ibs

There is an obvious advantage in starch for MC and only slight differences in Milk/Ton and NDF-d. These results are skewed in favor of BMR because, as yet, starch availability and prolamin proteins are not yet a part of the Milk/Ton formulas. Those factors are currently being updated for the coming revisions of the Mil/ton Formulas. These newer formulas should show a more fair indication of the value of MC corn silage and grain.

Original Source: Byron Seeds Website

Teff Management – by Bret Winsett

The use of Teff appears to have leveled off in the Midwest. We think it will continue to be an important crop because of the opportunities it gives to produce dry hay from a warm season annual.

We have all heard the stories of Teff not growing and had farmers upset because of this failure. Some of these folks may not plant teff again, but for the producer who really needs to make hay in the summer, we don’t need to shy away from recommending teff as a good option.

Even crops like corn and alfalfa fail on occasion and farmers still plant them without hesitation. When teff came to the forefront a few years ago, it was over promoted by the industry, Byron Seeds included. We were all told what a miracle crop this was and since it filled an important niche that we couldn’t fill before, we all got excited by the potential and we lept before we looked.

After several years of selling teff under our belts, we have a better handle on what makes stands fail and what it takes for them to succeed. Here are some of our observations:

  • Planting Depth: This is the single biggest cause of seeding failure. The goal is 1/8″ – ¼” deep. If you plant any deeper than that and you will impact emergence. Remember the general rule about seeding depth being 5 times the seed diameter. Those teff seeds are tiny!
  • Firm Seedbed: This goes along with planting depth. It is hard to only plant 1/8″ deep in a fluffy seedbed. The seedbed needs to be at least as firm as if you were planting alfalfa. If you can’t see the edge of the sole of your boot as you walk across the field, it is not firm enough.
  • Water: Even though teff comes from the dry climate of Ethiopia, it still needs water to grow. This is especially true at planting time. Many teff stands have failed because they only got enough moisture to germinate and then withered up. Once well-established, teff is quite drought tolerant, but it needs a few summer rains to get to that point. Teff does not need inches and inches of rain though. Due to the shallow root system of teff it can take advantage of light rains that only moisten the top inch or two of soil.
  • Temperature: Teff was originally sold as a warm season annual that could be planted at cooler temperatures than sorghum sudan and therefore could be planted earlier in the spring. We have found this not to be true. For best results, teff should be planted at soil temperature of 60 degrees and rising – the same temperature as Sorghum Sudan.

Even with all these challenges, much of the time we still have positive results with teff. For those people who have grown teff successfully in the past, they continue to grow teff. We will continue to carry teff because we believe it fits a very important niche. However, we will all have to work harder to ensure that teff gets placed in fields and under management conditions where it has the best chance for success. Those initial years of perfect weather and perfect circumstances showed us what is possible with teff and we think it is worth pursuing.

Clover – Something Old or Something New

As we become older, a useful skill to develop is to make old things become new again. I have been forced (kicking and screaming) into this predicament, myself. One huge advantage with using “old technologies” is that us old geezers can be at least partially familiar with the process and not have to start completely from scratch.

In the forage business, I have been in the (winning) battle for the acceptance of grasses back into alfalfa stands. Even though the grasses are new not old, i.e., modern European genetics are being used that add yield and quality to the resulting forage crop. Another example, is the resuscitating the use of cover crops into modern crop farming in the place of more chemicals and fallow ground left over winter. Modern crops, like deep rooted annual ryegrasses, vetches, annual clovers and tillage radishes are starting to be viewed as much better solutions for improving soil structure, increasing organic matter, improving porosity and water-holding capacity and scavenging otherwise lost fertility.

A new idea (except for a few diehards, but still not with wide acceptance) is to reintroduce red clover in the mix with our alfalfa and tall fescue. The reason for my epiphany was that I got some new samples of forage to rebalance a ration and was jolted into awareness by the test results of a sample of red clover balage. It had a NDF-d of 65%! Remember NDF-d measures the digestibility of the most indigestible fraction of a forage, the NDF. Typical NDF-d’s of alfalfa haylage center around 45%. Twenty points of increased digestibility is a big deal. Please bear in mind I am not saying that we should eliminate alfalfa where we can grow it successfully; just that maybe we should reconsider clover as part of the mix, especially when we are many times looking at keeping alfalfa for only three rotations anyway. Clover will add to the quality.

The benefits of alfalfa are many and well known. However, let’s look at what modern improved varieties of red clover bring to the table:

  • More winter hardiness
  • Clover better tolerates “wet feet”
  • Not as dependant on high soil pH
  • Has higher RUP or bypass protein than alfalfa by almost double.

Work at the USDA Forage Research Center in Wisconsin with red clover replacing alfalfa showed:

  • Dairy cows had reduced feed intakes with red clover-based diets, but had similar milk yield and produced less manure. This is the result of increased digestibility and is termed dairy efficiency.
  • Less crude protein was converted to NPN, which improved dietary protein efficiency and reduced manure nitrogen

To be sure, when I searched all my data bases and threw in all the samples of clover I could get from Dairyland Labs, the samples of clover haylage did not average 65%, but rather 53.4% at 30 hours. In work at Cal-West, a major breeder of alfalfas and clovers I found with pure clover and alfalfa harvested in research plots on exactly the same day, Clover averaged 7.8% higher than alfalfa in NDF-d. When clover was harvested 3 to 4 days after the alfalfa, the clover still maintained a 3.6% advantage.

With the new improved varieties of red clover, with greater yields and persistence, maybe it is time to take another look. Even if you have to dry bale, Freedom Red Clover, with its lack of pubescence (or hairless stems) dries much like alfalfa. If dry baling is not an issue, Cyclone IIhas been a winner in both yield and persistence. Last, and not least, a new red clover, Emerald (limited supply), has a very impressive late season production.

How much clover should I sow? One of our Wisconsin dealers, Dave Storms, a commercial hay producer, and delivers his product to dairies all over the Midwest. He has 2 to 3 pounds of clover and 10#’s of grass (mostly tall fescue) in every one of his hayfields. Yields of 7 to 8 tons of dry matter of dairy quality baleage are standard for Dave.

Embracing old things that have become new again at least makes the transitions less devastating for us old timers. Even old dogs can learn new tricks when the new tricks aren’t completely off the wall. And, I guess, Solomon was right about there’s nothing new under the sun.

Orgin: Farming Magazine, PO Box 85, Mt. Hope, OH 44660, by Larry Hawkins

Frost Seeding of Clovers – by Bret Winsett

It is February and before we know it, pastures will be greening up and spring will be upon us. Now is the time to get prepared for the upcoming grazing season and one of those items which we need to get accomplished is the incorporation of clovers such as Freedom! Or Emerald red clover and Regal Graze or Alice ladino clover into existing grass pastures via frost seeding. Frost seeding of clovers when done correctly can be relatively low cost and very successful.


Both research and farmer experience has shown that incorporating a legume into grass based pasture can provide numerous benefits. Red clover incorporated into tall fescue has been shown to increase overall forage yields of pasture due to an increased nitrogen supply as well as the additional forage that clovers can supply. With the increased costs of stored feeds, the more grazeable forage that we can produce, the better our pastures will be. Clovers in cool season grass pastures are also known to improve quality through improved palatability as well as increase nutrient/crude protein concentration. This results in better conception rates, better weaning weights, increased average daily gains and better milk production. High quality is also important in getting dairy and beef cows rebred after calving. Having a good percentage of legumes in grass-based pastures has also been shown to decrease nitrogen fertilizer needs of the soil due to legumes ability to utilize nitrogen from symbiotic bacteria that live in nodules on their roots. In short, getting a good legume established in pastures is critical in optimizing the productivity and profitability of our pasture base.

Keys to success – Two keys in the success of frost seeding clovers are done prior to seeding. First is to insure good fertility and pH. Minimum soil pH for clovers is 6.0 and for optimum growth, pH should be near 6.5. Also, for success, maximum seed to soil contact is essential. Ideally, this is accomplished through close grazing prior to the broadcasting of seed. However, spring pasture residue can be partially eliminated by harrowing. Frost seeding is the spreading of seed during February and early March, allowing the honey combing action that is created by alternating freezing and thawing cycles that the weather brings to incorporate the clover seed into the top ¼ inch of soil. Seeding rate for Freedom! red clover is 6 – 8 pounds per acre. Freedom! has been selected for good levels of disease resistance and traffic tolerance. As a red clover, it will also produce much more high quality forage during the summer months than white or ladino types do. Seeding rates for Regal Graze ladino clover is 1 – 2 pounds per acre.

Regal Graze has also been selected for improved grazing tolerance over standard ladino or white clovers and will persist much longer than red clovers when managed. If minimal freezing thawing occurs, it is also suggested that hoof traffic be utilized to help ensure good seed to soil contact. Post planting management revolves around controlling of the grass and weeds during the first 2 – 3 months of the growing season to allow the clovers a chance to grow and establish. Pastures that have just been frost seeded with legumes should not have nitrogen applied to them during the spring season. Elimination of the spring application of nitrogen will reduce competition from the grasses and allow clovers the ability to access sunlight, as new seedlings are very susceptible to shading by established plants. Frost seeded pastures should be mowed or grazed regularly in the spring and early summer to allow for light penetration into the plant canopy. If grazing, care should be taken to avoid overgrazing by moving livestock off pastures before the young clover seedlings are consumed prior to adequate root development.

The History of Sorghums and Sudans – by Chad Hale

For thousands of years, livestock producers in moderate climates have had to deal with the lack of cool season grass growth in the summer. Warm season crops like sorghum and sudan have been filling that void known as the summer slump for many centuries.

The Egyptians are thought to have used sorghum 3,000 years ago and sorghum appears in a carving from Ninevah, Assyria from 700 BC. The crops spread across Europe and then to America with the colonists and from Africa with the slave trade. Its primary use in this country was for syrup for human consumption but its summer growth was noticed and utilized for forage on a small scale

In 1830, Governor Means of South Carolina is credited with importing Johnsongrass for forage and if you look in your corn fields today you can see that it spread really well! The first forage sorghum variety called Chinese Amber came from France in 1853 and its use for forage rapidly spread at that time. Shattercane is spoken of in accounts of early settlers and it results from the crossing of Johnsongrass and sorghum to create another aggressive weed problem. Sudangrass is a more recent introduction being brought to the US by the USDA in 1909 from Africa. A single row of sudangrass 16 feet long planted that year in Texas was the origin of most of the seed in the US for many years after that.

Even though we think of Johnsongrass and shattercane as weeds today, they were better than no forage at all and filled a feed niche in the hot dry summer that still challenges us today. We have come a long way with sorghums, sudangrasses and the sorghum x sudan crosses that have been bred over the last 50 years and we look forward to even more advances in the future. The most significant recent advance was the Brown Midrib Trait that was introduced into sorghums in 1978. There are now three types, gene 6, gene 12, and gene 18 BMR’s with gene 6’s offering the most improvement in digestibility. It’s this gene 6 material that forms the basis of the Alta Seed program that Byron Seeds uses.

Choosing between Forage Sorghum, Sorghum Sudan, Hybrid Sudangrass, and Master Graze – by Larry Hawkins

Bulleted lists for comparison between Forage Sorghum, Sorghum Sudan, Hybrid Sudangrass, Master Graze.

Forage Sorghum (FS)

  • Treated more like corn silage
  • Planted in rows, direct chopped
  • One-cut system
  • Shorter relative maturities (85 and 94 days) now available to go further North
  • Can be Concept® treated which allows some herbicide usage
  • Nutrient profile – can reach 10% CP, 10% Sugar and 10% Starch in soft dough stage
  • Yield – In Southern parts of Byron marketing area will be competitive with or beating corn silage. In Northern parts where double cropped with Tritcale will match corn silage yield
  • Seeding rate – 80,000 seeds/acre (usually 5 to 8#’s). This the least expensive sorghum product to plant
  • Harvested at soft dough stage as grain becomes very hard as it ripens
  • Available in untreated (UT), but not Certified Organic
  • Harvest for haylage and baleage

Sorghum Sudan (SS)

  • Quickest harvest after planting (45 days for first cut, than 30 days for subsequent cuts)
  • 2 or more cut system – more cuttings further South, less further North
  • Can be 11 to 22% CP depending on fertility
  • Produces between 2 and 2½ DM per cutting
  • Seeding rates – 40 to 50 Ibs in Upper Midwest, decreasing to 25 Ibs in KY and TN
  • Available in untreated (UT), but not Certified Organic
  • Harvest for haylage, baleage or grazing
  • Can be interseeded with 5 Ibs annual red clover for cover crop for the next fall, winter

Hybrid Sudangrass (SG)

  • Only candidate of this group for dry baling
  • Fastest dry-down for haylage/baleage also
  • Available in untreated (UT), but not Certified Organic
  • Can be 11 to 22% CP depending on fertility
  • New AS9301 is competitive on yield and quality with SS. It is the first BMR Gene 6 Sudan Hybrid
  • Seeding rate – 20 to 25 Ibd/acre
  • Available in untreated (UT), but not Certified Organic
  • Harvest as haylage, dry hay, baleage or by grazing

Master Graze (MG)

  • Has the earliest planting date – can be planted after soil temps hit 55°F whereas all sorghums must wait for 60°F
  • Can be from 11% to 18% CP
  • Largest yield for a 60 day crop – 4 to 5 tons DM
  • Seeding rate – 30,000 to 36,000/acre depending on row width.
  • One-cut system, however Sorghum Sudan or Hybrid Sudangrass can be seeded into MG after cutting and MG tillers will add to first cutting of sorghum.
  • Available in untreated (UT), but not Certified Organic
  • Harvest for haylage, baleage or by grazing

Gene 6 & Brachytic Dwarf Sorghums – by Dwayne Colvin

Advanta, the company that supplies Byron Seeds LLC with our sorghum lineup, is the world leader in sorghum research and development. The Alta program is their top line of sorghum products, the best of the best.

Almost everyone has had some experience with sorghum sudan. Most of us that tried sorghum sudan ten or twenty years ago have some form of horror story to tell:

A week of rain when they should have been harvesting, leaving you with sorghum 12-15 feet tall, or at least it was 12 feet tall until the wind came through.

Cows lost in a field for over a week: “Well, last I seen them, they was headed into that 10 foot tall patch of sorghum over there. So far, they ain’t gaining on the stuff. I suppose if we don’t get a drought real soon, we may not see those cows ‘til fall.”

Or nutrition problems: “Yup, as a matter of fact, I sent some of that sorghum off to the lab. It appears this sorghum has the same nutritional value as firewood, only it’s not quite as digestible.”

The good news is that Advanta has developed a totally new sorghum family in the past few years. One major change is the BMR gene 6 line of sorghums. BMR is a genetic mutation, (not a GMO trait), that produces less lignin which means higher digestibility and much better energy values than the old varieties. Highly digestible fiber means more available energy while still slowing down the rate of passage, pushing the rumen away from that constant verge of acidosis. Balancing a TMR on the edge of acidosis has limited the average life of a dairy cow to 1.8 lactations when they should be productive for 6 or even 8 lactations.

So Advanta has given us more digestible fiber and higher nutrition, but that’s just the beginning. Another big breakthrough is yield. Advanta has developed one-cut forage sorghums that will out-yield corn silage, and on about a third less fertilizer and water. The brachytic dwarf gene gives us a plant that tops out at about seven feet tall and, with a stalk as big as your wrist, (ok, as big as my wrist), has tremendous standability with digestibility and high sugar content. Starch is 10-15% and protein is a couple of notches higher than corn silage. The days to maturity run from high eighties to about 110, depending on the variety. Add in male sterile and photoperiod sensitive varieties and you’ve got a lot of choices for every situation.

Advanta also has a sudan hybrid grass, AS9301, that will yield with the best of the sorghum sudans, with quicker regrowth. The reason why sudans were crossed with sorghums in the first place was to boost yield and regrowth in the sudan grasses. There was a tradeoff, however, as the sorghums brought a little less protein to the mix. With AS9301 sudan grass you can have high protein and high NDFd with tremendous yield and fast regrowth. Plus, this grass can be dry baled. We just don’t have a better package to offer than this.

Advanta Alta program has bundled something really unique with their summer annuals. Advanta has a replant policy. If you have a field that has poor emergence, or gets froze off, drowned out, ate by bugs, or trampled by wild elephants, (ok, I’m stretching it), we’ll replace the seed at 50% of the cost. With the spring weather we’ve had the past couple of years; a replant policy has some real appeal.
There’s one more thing I should mention. We have a return policy on all Alta products. There are times when getting the seed into the ground just isn’t going to happen. It’s nice to know that you have the option of buying seed and returning it if things don’t go according to plan.

You -> “But Advanta products can be a bit pricey. I can buy sorghums from the local feed store cheaper than that.”

Me -> “I hear what you’re saying, but are they a better investment for your money?”

Yes, it will cost a bit more per acre to plant Advanta forage sorghums, sorghum sudans and sudan grasses, but let’s list the advantages:


More yield per acre on less inputs $$
High fiber digestibility$$
More protein$$
Higher energy $$
Faster regrowth $$
Better herd health$$
More lactations$$
Option of returning seed$$
Replant policy+ $$
= $$$$

Any way you add it up, Advanta sorghum products pay higher returns, every time.

Cover Crop Terminology – by Dennis Brown

These terms describe the purpose of each category of cover crop. A single species may have more than one function. Before selecting a cover crop or mixture of cover crops, analyze your goals for each field.

This analysis should include

  • a soil test,
  • what are the needs of the next crop such as is it nitrogen needy or nitrogen productive,
  • what are the fertility needs of the field,
  • is it highly erodible land, either from wind or water,
  • could it need organic matter,
  • are there fertility excesses,
  • does the pH need adjusting, etc.?

Then choose cover crops that can make those improve

Cover Crops:

Cover crops are those crops that are planted to provide a cover for the soil. They are grown primarily as a biological soil conservation tool to prevent soil erosion by water and/or wind;and to foster multiple benefits in a farming system. These benefits include but are not limited to: optimization and/or normalization of the fertility profile, improvement of the soil properties such as water-holding capacity, structure and aggregation, rescue lost fertility that has leached away, provide deep root channeling for the next crop, and increased organic matter

Cover crops are typically planted before and after the main designated cash crop in a rotation. Cover crops may be used as a ground cover or mulch, green manure, nurse crop, or a smother crop. The cover crops can be annual, biennial, or perennial species, including legumes, grasses and the brassicas.

Green Manure:

Any crop that is grown and incorporated into the soil while it is green or soon after flowering which can improve the soil, especially with the addition of organic matter plus N, P and K and other elements contained in the plant. The average availability of nitrogen in green-manure material turned under is typically about 50 to 60% of the initial amount as determined by a feed or tissue test. Green manure was once the conventional method of supplying nitrogen and other fertility to crops and was practiced widely before commercial nitrogen fertilizer became available.

Catch Crop:

When cover crops are planted to reduce nutrient leaching they are termed “catch crops”. These are cover crops planted after the cash crop is harvested or after legume plow downs. They are also planted in late summer or early fall to trap nutrients from freshly spread manures. They are grown to take up and hold the nutrients in their tissues or “catch” the nutrients from the soil, especially nitrogen that may otherwise be leached lower in the soil profile and lost below the active crop root zone.

Scavenger Crops:

Farmed soils that have been heavily cropped with shallow-rooted plants such as corn may become deficient in certain micronutrients. Deep-rooted scavenger cover crops such as certain annual ryegrasses, alfalfa, red clover and sweet clover grow roots deep into the subsoil and have the ability to bring soil nutrients from the lower soil profile to the upper layers and also into the scavenger crop’s leaf biomass securing it there for the next crop. The deep-growing root structure additionally helps to break up soil compaction and when these plants die, their decaying roots leave not only organic matter, but also channels in the soil that provide pathways for the roots of the following crop to follow down the profile. Tthese root channels also provide pathways for water to drain from the surface.

Break Crop:

Cash crops attract and harbor particular populations of insect pests including harmful nematodes. Different species of cover crops can be selected in the rotation that do not harbor those pests or actually diminishes their population by interrupting the insects’ life cycle. Reducing pests and disease populations is another one of the best reasons for using cover crops in your rotation.

Nurse Crop:

A nurse crop is one that germinates and emerges quickly, holds the soil with quick cover and root structure and assists the development of a slower maturing crop. Oats, Italian ryegrass and festulolium are common nurse crops used to start a alfalfa/tall fescue hay crop. The oats or nurse crop grasses germinate first, out-compete weeds for available resources and then can be mowed when the legume and slower emerging grass starts to grow.

Smother Crops:

Fast growing crops help control weeds by growing a thick canopy that reduces the amount of sunlight for weed seeds to germinate and grow. Smother crops grow tall at a fast rate or quickly produce broad leaves that shade out lower growing weeds. Including these covers in your rotation, growing double or triple crops in a single season is an effective strategy for weed control. An effective sequence of smother crops is oats in spring, buckwheat or sorghum-Sudan grass in summer and rye, triticale or forage brassicas in the fall. Hairy vetch planted in the fall and overwintering will then act as a spring smother crop smothering early spring weeds. These crops can also produce high quality forage.


The term allelopathy is often used when referring to the weed suppressing attributes of certain cover crops. Allelopathy is “the inhibition of growth in one species of plants by chemicals produced by another species.” It can be any direct or indirect harmful effect produced in one plant through toxic chemicals released in to the environment by another. The magnitude of the detrimental effects depends on the extent of any other stresses, such as environmental conditions or biological factors (e.g. insect or disease pressure) that occur at the same time. Different cover crops have different allelopathic effects, and the activity may be reduced or enhanced by microbial action, oxidation, and other transformations in the soil.

Some examples of allelopathic cover crops include:

  • Peas, lentils, vetches – Beta-(3-isoxazolinonyl) alanine: released as root exudates. Suppressing lambs quarter, yellow foxtail, Yellow nutsedge and pitted morning glory.
  • Buckwheat – A compound called diethyl phthalate is produced by buckwheat and is responsible for weed suppression. This weed-suppressing compound is mainly in the stem rather than the shoots, so it is likely to be most active by suppressing weeds after the buckwheat is harvested. It was especially active on pigweed, and not particularly effective on plants in the mustard family.
  • Cereal Rye and small grains including triticale- produce several compounds that inhibit crops and weeds. The most active compounds are two hydroxamic acids and their breakdown products.
  • Crimson Clover – has been shown to suppress pitted morning glory, wild mustard and Italian ryegrass.
  • Sorghum-Sudan grass – releases sorgoleone through the root exudates. sorgoleone interferes with photosynthesis of neighboring plants and crops that follow the sorghum.

To overcome the effects of allelopathy, light tillage or a heavy application of liquid manure will stop allelopathic effects. Many farmers use the allelopathy to their advantage to stop weeds from growing in between harvesting the small grains and before the next crop

Selecting A Cover Crop – by Dennis Brown

Cover crops can be a key soil improvement resource for conventional and organic growers alike. Here is an introduction to the role and selection of cover crops for farming systems. There are cover crops to fit almost every type of cropping system.

For Certified Organic agriculture, according to the USDA National Organic Program Standards “the producer is required to implement a crop rotation, including but not limited to sod, cover crops, green manure crops, and catch crops.”

Many types of plants can be grown as cover crops. There are two broad general categories of cover crops – non-leguminous and leguminous. The leguminous cover crops fix and add nitrogen to the soil. Non-leguminous cover crops are users of N and hold it until either incorporated or fed ass forage. Non legumes are often preferred on erosive soils. Each plant type has advantages over the other and differs in its area of adaptability.

In choosing a cover crop for soil improvement, first identify the purpose or the primary function of the cover crop based on the needs of your system. Use the list below to identify the primary function(s) of the cover crop:

Provide nitrogen – Growing legume cover crops is one of the most important tools to increase soil fertility. The main benefit of using a legume as a green manure is that the legumes fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it into a form that is available to other plants. Choose legumes that are adapted to your area. Legumes (peas, vetches, clovers, beans and alfalfas) grow in a symbiotic relationship with soil dwelling bacteria (rhizobia). The bacteria take gaseous nitrogen from the air trapped in the soil and convert or “fix” this nitrogen into a form that the plant can use, in exchange the plant provides carbohydrates to the rhizobial bacteria. Legumes vary from one another in the percent of nitrogen they contain on a dry matter basis. Legumes contain nitrogen in both their top growth and in their roots. A high percentage of the biologically fixed nitrogen is in the top growth, so it is important to manage them to let them grow long enough to produce their full high potential amount of biomass.. The residues of these crops can contribute substantial nitrogen (75 to over 150 units of N) to following crops.

Increase soil organic matter – By improving the soil biological activity, cover crops can conserve or increase soil organic matter if they are managed to grow long enough to produce a high amount of biomass. A major benefit from green manures is the addition of carbon compounds in the form of organic matter to the soil. Over time, soil organic matter is decreased through tillage and biological activity. Adding crop residues back to the soil also helps maintain soil organic matter. Complex soil structure is built by the addition of organic matter. In no-till systems where there is limited incorporation of plant residues, cover crops are important key to building soil organic matter. The roots will physically penetrate the soil and release carbon compound root exudates in the soil at varying depths as the roots grow deeper. When these cover crops are terminated their dying root biomass becomes incorporated organic matter at various depths. Obviously, a plant with large root biomass will do this job the best. With summer annuals like the sorghum family, harvesting the forage at least once drives the roots deeper into the soil. With cool season grasses, each harvest causes the roots to shed about half their biomass and it regrows as the leaves regrow.

Improve the nutrient availability in the soil – Nutrient availability is improved because the cover crop plant roots release 80% of the sugars that the plant produces into the soil to feed the soil microorganisms that build soil and in turn mineralize, recycle and release nutrients to the next crop. When incorporated into the soil, cover crop biomass is decomposed by soil bacteria and fungi. Through this process of biological decomposition the soil nutrients are recycled. Look for high biomass –producing cover crops. In addition, increased plant residues associated with cover crops in a system improve the soil environment for certain beneficial organisms. Organisms such as earthworms, insects and microorganisms can improve soil quality and increase nutrient availability by quickly decomposing organic matter and plant residues.

As a summer cover crop, consider sorghum-Sudan grass hybrids. Fall-planted winter annuals, such as cereal rye and triticale plus certain deep-rooted annual ryegrasses work well. The legumes which produce much biomass include hairy vetch, alfalfa, medium red clover, ladino white clover, field peas, sweet clover and crimson clover. Mixes of legumes and cereal crops can be used as well.

Scavenge nutrients – Soluble plant-available nutrients, especially nitrogen, are left in the soil after the cash crop has been harvested. Over the winter, bare soil is prone to losses of nutrients both into the air by volatilization and to water by leaching or by erosion. Growing a cover crop will reduce those loses by taking up the nutrients into their own tissue. The nutrients in cover crops are not always directly available to plants. The soil microbes decompose the cover crop residues, taking up some of the nutrients and releasing the rest to the soil environment. When the plants and the soil microbes decompose, the nutrients contained in them become available for the next growing crop in the rotation like a slow-release fertilizer. Legumes and grasses have symbiotic relationships with fungi that produce mycorrhizal hyphae (fungus roots) which branch through the soil and can help the plant scavenge nutrients (e.g. phosphorous). These fungi must be in association with a living root to survive. By having legumes, brassicas and/or grass cover crops growing after the cash crop, these microbial –plant root relationships can be maintained throughout the rotation to help foster further nutrient scavenging and cycling.

Examples of crops used for this purpose are annual clovers, specially-bred daikon radishes whose roots tend to grow straight down and penetrate 25 to 35 inches into the soil and certain annual ryegrasses which grow down even further (40 to 60 inches buy the next spring.

Prevent soil erosion and runoff – Cover crops can protect soil from raindrop impact and wind. . Choose species that grow rapidly and cover the soil surface quickly. Most of the same crops that are used for nutrient scavengers also provide good soil cover. The cover protects the soil from direct raindrop impact and also impeding the velocity of rainwater flowing across the soil surface and thus reducing erosion potential, also covering the soil surface from direct wind gusts.

Improve soil structure – Increasing the soil organic matter with cover crops as previously mentioned improves the soil structure. As plant residues degrade, the soil microbes feeding on them release compounds into the soil. These compounds are gums, waxes and other exudates that have “glue-like” properties which cement soil particles together to form stable soil aggregates. Soil components aggregated together result in improved soil structure and tilth. Grasses have mycorrhizae associations as do legumes, however, grasses are characterized by dense masses of fibrous roots that improve the soil structure by exuding polysaccharides (sugars). The polysaccharides stimulate soil microorganisms which in turn exude gums that aggregate soil particles. Aggregates contribute to greater soil permeability, soil porosity, aeration, water infiltration and holding capacity, cat-ion exchange capacity, ease of crop emergence and root growth. Added organic matter also alleviates compaction by reducing the bulk density of the soil.

Improve drainage and alleviate compaction – Deep-rooted plants can help break through compacted layers in the soil such as a hard pan, or as it is sometimes known, plow pan. This will improve drainage. The penetrating roots of the cover crops make channels through which soil water can move after the root system decomposes. Species to consider are certain annual ryegrasses, sweet clovers and brassicas. These winter cover crops with large tap roots or massive root systems can help to alleviate some of the effects of soil compaction by penetrating the compacted layer when the soil is wet and relatively soft during the winter.

Provide mulch to conserve soil moisture:– Choose cover crops with a combination of high above-ground biomass and moderate or high carbon/nitrogen ratios. The microbes that decompose crop residues use carbon as an energy source and nitrogen to build tissue. If residues have a C/N ratio higher than 25:1, the microbes will need to gather N from the surrounding environment to do their work. Generally speaking, the higher the C/N ratio of the cover crop residue, the more slowly decomposition will occur and the longer the residue will serve as both a moisture conserving and weed-suppressing mat. The small grain cover crops are well suited for this. Most legume residues with higher nitrogen content will decompose more rapidly and be less effective as mulch. Mature rye and triticale can be effectively used as weed suppressing mulches when rolled down which also conserves soil moisture evaporation by keeping the soil covered.

No-Till for Organic Farmers: Recent progress has been made in organic no-till and killed mulch no-till systems using a crimper/roller that is mounted to the front of a tractor to roll down and mechanically kill fall-planted small grains or hairy vetch cover crops in the spring. With the front-mounted roller the process is a time and energy saver being a one-pass system of roll and plant. A no-till planter or no-till trans-planter can be used to cut through the mat of rolled-down cover crop and then seed or transplant into it. Winter annual cover crops are used to cover the soil and recycle nutrients from fall through early spring and then rolled and into a weed-suppressing killed cover crop mat to no-till plant into. The rolled down cover crop deters weed emergence by the formation of the physical barrier of the cover crop residue, in addition, light transmittance to the soil surface declines with increasing residue biomass. Many weeds require light to activate a germination process prior to emergence. Reducing the amount of light reaching the soil surface by the residue is an important factor inhibiting weed germination. Early weed suppression provided by the cover crop residue will permit crops to become established before weeds.

Byron Seeds’ Involvement In Cover Crops – by Samuel Fisher

Byron Seeds started in the early 1990’s because we could not find the quality grass varieties we needed for our farms. We started out with mostly forages and then soon got involved with cover crops on a small scale.

Research on our farm has been pretty extensive since the beginning. From 1999 through 2007 we tried a lot of different crops broadcast into corn and since we have done some very successful cover crops in rotations. Since 2007, Byron Seeds has been involved in quite a lot of research for cover crops with agronomists and farmers who share our passion for the future of farming.

At Byron Seeds, we see ourselves as an education-based company. We started an early spring Cover Crop Field Day this year involving famers and NRCS folks and we look forward to continuing this effort. In addition, we do seminars, winter meetings and newsletter in order to help spread our message. Since we are an independent seed company, we can constantly look for new and improved varieties from anywhere in the world. In fact, that is one of our key strengths. We strive every day to make sure the seed we sell is the most viable and best value for the farmer.

Here is an example of how we view cover crops fitting into our organization: Let’s say you’ve just bought a new piece of equipment, like maybe a tractor. You’d want to protect your investment by working it according to specs and following a proper maintenance program. You’d know that, if you took good care of it and didn’t work it too hard, normal wear would allow it to last for years. But, what if the more you worked it, the better it got. That using it hard was taking care of it . . . improving it, not wearing it out. That constant work was actually part of the maintenance program. In fact, the more you used it, the more its power and performance were improved and the more years of service were added to its life?

Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it. Nothing in life works that way, material investments always seem to depreciate in value and decrease in productivity. But wait, there is one exception. Soil is just like that, the more you have something growing in it, the more you improve its quality and productivity. The bad news is that modern farming is incredibly hard on soil. The typical corn\soybean rotation we follow year after year is kicking the life and productivity out of our soil, ever notice how it takes more inputs to maintain yield?

The good news is cover crops can reverse the damage of modern farming, improving soil quality and performance. Like a finely tuned tractor, rejuvenated soils can make you money. That’s why cover crops are so important, something green and growing year round. “But” you say, “Cover crops are a pain and don’t fit into my rotation. Besides all that, my neighbor tried them and had an 800 acre disaster.” You’re right. All that you just said is true. Cover crops are an important tool in our sustainable farming toolbox, but the whole cover crop program has been set back in recent years by wanna-a-be seed peddlers jumping in to the cover crop market trying to make a fast buck without any knowledge or experience. There have been a lot of expensive disasters as a result of following unsound advice.

But, what if there was a company that could make cover crops an easy success for you. They did the groundwork so that you could have maximum effect with minimal involvement on your part? Byron Seeds has a cover crop program that will be tailor-made for you. We have consultants that can do an on-farm prescription of the cover crop or crops that best suits your unique operation. If need be, we can custom blend a mix that will optimize your soil improvement program. We understand your unique situation, we’re farmers too. Even more, we have connections with the people that can fly the seed on if needed at just the right time to maximize success. So what does it take on your part? Give us a call and talk to us. We’d be pleased to give you a hand in rebuilding your soil. Let our experience help you make cover crops be a success on your farm.

Grass Alfalfa Mixes – by Larry Hawkins

From a time, about forty years ago, when every hayfield contained grasses mixed with alfalfa to the recent past when alfalfa was used almost exclusively, grass alfalfa mixtures are making a mighty reappearance and for one of the same reasons they left!

Grasses left because livestock farmers needed more energy from their hay/haylage and they are coming back for this very same reason! There is a huge difference, of course, in the grasses. Yesterday’s grasses were very early-heading which causes the grass have lower energy and digestibility . And as grass was removed from most hayfields, grass was ignored by US plant breeders and soon forgotten.

So what has led to the resurgence? In Europe, dairy producers largely couldn’t raise alfalfa, so they were “stuck” with grass. In these last forty years, their plant breeders worked with grasses (instead of alfalfa) and the result is modern improved grasses that in the main are very late-heading. Remember though when you purchase grass seed from your local purveyor, it probably is some of the same grass that you (or your Dad) could have had forty years ago. Byron Seed specializes in these European grasses from Barenbrug, DLF and Eurograss, the three major grass breeding companies in Europe. These companies are the primary sources for the grasses that are viable companions to alfalfa or in many cases able to produce excellent forage standing alone.

When considering grass, there are four huge benefits that should impress even the most dedicated alfalfa purist! They are a) higher yield b) better quality, c)promotion of herd health and improved crop rotation charcteristics. A fifth benefit, improved nutrient management opportunity is, at least, important to CAFO farms and as government programs converge upon us, will be important to all. Let’s look at them one at a time.

Yield A huge driver on forage choices by livestockproducers is yield as evidenced by the increase in corn silage acres over pure alfalfa. Grass/alfalfa mixes year in and year out shine in yield per acre. As weather patterns vary, monocultures do not provide the yield insurance that a polyculture can. In the Upper Midwest, our choice for the main grass companion to alfalfa is tall fescue (TF), esp. Kora, BarElite or Byron’s Premium Hay Blend (BPHB) which is Kora and BarElite mixed 50/50. The reason is that TF roots nearly as deep as alfalfa and therefore has close to the same drought tolerance as alfalfa and therefore, greater summer production. Besides, when it comes to wet feet, alfalfa does poorly, but TF will still do well. University yield trials in Iowa had tall fescues yield as high as 10 DM tons/acre and nearly every entry over 8 tons. Getting to higher alfalfa yields, we see an increase of 1 to 2 tons DM/year when grass is added to alfalfa at a ratio of 40% grass and 60% alfalfa.

Yield is king because as land prices soar, more tons per acre helps us produce the forage we need on fewer acres, allowing our clients to either buy or rent less ground or produce cash crops on land we already have. (There is a rumor that you can actually sell your extra corn and hay!)

Quality It is almost a no-brainer to add grass to alfalfa when you can not only get higher yields, but at the same time get higher quality. Quality in a forage is defined as more digestibility (NDF-d) not by higher Relative Feed Value (RFV). The proper index to look at when judging forage, is Relative Feed Quality (RFQ). This calculation uses all the inputs that the current energy equation (for NEL) uses. RFV merely rewards low fiber and we will visit that subject in the herd health section. At the World Dairy Expo Forage Analysis Super Bowl (FASB) a tremendous statement was made by not only the number of finalists in the Dairy Hay, Dairy Haylage and Dairy Baleage divisions, but also the statistics. There were 26 finalists out of 50 spots that contained grass, plus a majority of the top four spots in each. There were also two categories, Commercial Hay (all finalists were 100% alfalfa) and the Grass Hay (virtually 100% grass). The results when comparing the two—grass had a NDF-d of 73.8% and the best of the best alfalfas averaged about 47%! (See chart below). Also, the pure grass finalists averaged 3175 milk/ton and the pure alfalfas averaged 2950.

2011 World Dairy Expo Forage Analysis Super Bowl Results
Category Number/Finalists Forage Type Milk/Ton in Ibs NDF-d%
Dairy Hay 12/20 Pure Alfalfa 3022 48.2
Dairy Hay 8/20 Alfalfa/Grass Mix 3070 52.5
Dairy Haylage 8/20 Pure Alfalfa 3059 46.6
Dairy Haylage 12/20 Alfalfa/Grass Mix 3250 55.5
Baleage 4/10 Pure Alfalfa 2877 46.5
Baleage 6/10 Alfalfa/Grass Mix 3138 62.0
Commercial Hay 20/20 Pure Alfalfa 2878 46.3
Grass Hay 10/10 Pure Grass 3175 73.8

Herd Health Feeding more forage to dairy cows is a universally recognized way to increase herd health. The problem is that if the forage energy isn’t high enough to compensate for replacing higher energy concentrates, milk production goes down. Some people recognizing the profit-making opportunities of higher herd health and reproduction are happy with just that. Others who want high production can ramp up digestible forages to a point and maintain overall ration energy. Either way reducing lost milk production from sick cows, avoiding compromised immune response and fewer emergency vet visits are a huge profit opportunity for any dairy. Diseases like acidosis, DA’s, lameness, ketosis and poor reproduction can be mitigated by including high energy grasses into the ration. The key to all of these improvements is the ability to raise digestible fiber in the ration with the addition of grass (high energy) rather than straw (low energy) to the alfalfa.

Improved Crop Rotations Work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that corn following grass (as a monoculture) was as good as or better than corn following soybeans or alfalfa. The reason for this surprising result was the tremendous amount of root biomass that grass provides organic matter to our soils. We know of no other crop that can add organic matter to our soil as quickly as large-rooted grasses such as tall fescue Besides organic matter grasses provide deep channels for new corn roots to follow, improved soil structure and water holding capacity and better soil aggregation. Obviously, a mixture grass and alfalfa can provide the benefits of both crops as a precursor to the next corn crop.

Enhanced Nutrient Management for large dairies As with organic matter, we know of no common crop with the uptake capabilities of cool-season grasses like tall fescue. With their combination of yield and their thirst for nutrients, grasses will remove more N, P and K per year than any other crop. Added to that, with each harvest, another opportunity presents itself to apply manure, especially liquid manure and low nutrient water.

These topics are covered more completely in the Grass Report available from the Indiana warehouse.

Consider Forbs In Your Grass Mixes – by Samuel Fisher

Have you heard about the increased interest in planting forbs in pasture mixes? Forbs like plantain and chicory have extremely high feed value, but there is much more to the story.

I had some farmers tell me recently that by adding a small amount of chicory or plantain in hay for dry cows, they took care of all of their freshening problems including milk fever, retained placentas, fatty livers and more. So I dug deeper and actually found some research data to explain what happened. These forbs with their deep root structures pull up larger amounts of trace minerals than grasses do. Also the calcium/phosphorus ratios are well balanced. There may still be more to the story that we don’t understand at this time.

We have seen how well Tonic plantain works in mixes for pastures and are impressed with its summer performance and the yield it can give. We will also investigate adding some small amounts in hay mixes as well. We will try it on our farm this year and let you know what happens.

When it comes to chicory, there is a huge amount of research showing that sheep and goats grazing chicory have reduced worm loads. In some cases, grazing chicory has been as effective as dosing them with conventional de-wormer. Grazing chicory for just a short period of time can drastically reduce the parasite population but giving them access to some chicory at all times may be even better.

Varieties: Tonic Plantain from PGG added to perennial ryegrass can increase overall production through the dog days of August and the fall. It can be planted in Zones 1 thru 6 and has an improved supply of some trace minerals. It is usually seeded at 4-6 Ibs in a mix.

Forage Feast Chicory is a perennial chicory from France thru Barenbrug with very good winter-hardiness, excellent summer production and very high feed value. A deep taproot makes it very drought-tolerant. Forage Feast looks like a giant dandelion, but tends to be leafier, more digestible and more bolt resistant than competitive varieties. Seed at 1Ib/acre in mixes or 4 to 6 Ibs in a monoculture.