Are you looking to increase production from pastures or hay fields? Frost seeding or interseeding legumes might just work in your operation.

Nitrogen is one of the key ingredients for productive pastures. A way to get more nitrogen in a pasture is to plant legumes. Alfalfa, clovers, birdsfoot trefoil, and other legumes all fix atmospheric nitrogen and can reduce nitrogen costs. These legumes are also very high in forage quality.

Not all pastures are good candidates for adding legumes, however. First, legumes need adequate phosphorus and a pH usually above 6 while some prefer a pH closer to 7. Frost seeding is a method where legume seed is simply broadcast in winter to allow the natural freezing and thawing of the ground to plant the seed for you.

Because frost seeding requires seed to be close to the soil surface after broadcasting, snow-free or very little snow is preferred. Frost seeding success can vary and while frost seeding is easier to do, drilling is almost always a better option if the pasture conditions allow it. Interseeding with a no-till drill better ensures seed placement and seed to soil contact. 

Lastly, heavy flash grazing several times in the spring will reduce the competition from existing grasses and help establishment of legume seedlings. Once the grass is 3-4 inches taller than the seedlings, graze quickly until the grass is grazed down to the height of the legume seedlings.

Legumes can help reduce fertilizer cost and create higher quality pastures and hay. Frost seeding or no-till drill interseeding are two approaches that might work to establish legumes in your operation.

By Jerry Volesky

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