Clover can improve Louisiana pastures

Bruce Schultz  |  12/11/2017 8:30:02 PM

(12/12/17) ALEXANDRIA, La. — An LSU AgCenter forage specialist said cattle producers should consider planting clover in pastures because of its advantages as a food source.

AgCenter forage specialist Wink Alison, speaking at the annual conference of the Louisiana Forage and Grassland Council on Dec. 8, said clover can improve pastures because of nitrogen fixation. “It will fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form the plant can use,” he said.

Clover is highly digestible and is higher in total digestible nutrients than most grasses, Alison said. Total season forage production from pastures overseeded with clover can be as high as grass fertilized with 100 pounds per acre of nitrogen.

Clover often lacks the persistence, but some recently released clover varieties had persistence as a selection criteria, he said.

Also at the meeting, Ted Miller, who raises dairy cattle near Baskin, talked about his use of the leader-follower system for controlled grazing.

Pasture planted in clover is first grazed in spring by lactating cows because they have higher nutrient needs. Then, the pasture is grazed by bred heifers in mid-gestation, Miller said.

Open breeding-age heifers are given first priority in the fall, followed by bred cows and heifers.

To avoid using a drill planter, seed is broadcast in late summer where cattle are grazing. “We’re finding that trampling impact is giving us some impressive germination,” Miller said. “We’re learning that cows’ hooves do a good job of planting grass.”

Liza Garcia from the University of Florida gave an overview of her research on pollinators in pastureland.

Bee populations are declining, but the insects can coexist with cattle and pastures. Native bees use the roots of forage plants for nesting, she said.

AgCenter forage agronomist Ed Twidwell told council members about his tour of forage seed production operations in Oregon in May.

The seed operation is highly controlled, Twidwell said, with a certification process to ensure variety integrity and proper germination.

Kevin Norton, state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said the NRCS partnered with the AgCenter for a $900,000 cover crop study on cropland and pastures.

He said the AgCenter and the Louisiana Master Farmer Program are also working with the NRCS on a series of workshops on soil health. The first two will be held Jan. 23 in West Monroe at the Hampton Inn, and at the DeWitt Livestock Facility at the Dean Lee Research Station on Jan. 24.

Participants will receive credit for Phase 2 of the Louisiana Master Farmer Program. Certified Master Farmers and certified crop advisers who attend will receive continuing education credit.

Norton said Congress is expected to take up the next farm bill after Jan. 1, and NRCS funding for conservation projects are included in the legislation. The current farm bill expires on Sept. 30, 2018.

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