Rick Mammen says it is the time when fescue growers need to make some serious management decisions, in advance of the upcoming season regarding their acres of the grass.
"What is done with these acres in the next few weeks can have a big impact on the direction of the forage program for the next year," said Mammen, a University of Missouri Outreach and Extension agronomy specialist.
First off, Mammen says, farmers need to decide "the goal for the grass." No goal, probably little grass.
"If part of the acreage is going to be devoted to seed production, then the management will be different than if forage production is the only desired outcome. If forage is the goal, is the production going to be based strictly upon grass, or is much of the forage going to have a legume component? These are important considerations," Mammen said.
But for any management objective, Mammen says soil testing is a first and necessary step to determine the fertilizer requirements for the crop.
"Soil-test results don't tell the whole story, with regard to the nitrogen application, however," he said. "If fescue is being fertilized for seed production, the nitrogen should be applied as soon as possible, preferably by the end of January. If interested only in the grass as pasture or hay, there usually is an advantage of waiting until near greenup in early March before applying the nitrogen."
Phosphorus and potassium should be applied whenever there is a need, as determined by the soil test. Whether seed or forage is the goal, Mammen says both nutrients are necessary before optimum production from the grass can be expected.
He says this winter should be a good opportunity for cattlemen to introduce legumes into the pastures. Most of the pastures have been grazed close, because of the prolonged dry summer and fall. The grass not only is eaten short, but it will be "in a somewhat weakened condition" from the extended short grazing when it starts to grow next spring.
"These conditions should increase the success of introducing clovers by overseeding this winter or no-tilling in early spring. The short grass will allow sunlight to reach the ground. This will be beneficial in germinating and establishing the clovers," Mammen said. "The weakened fescue also will allow the fledgling clover seedlings to be more competitive with the grass in the spring."
If clovers are to be established in the pasture, Mammen says the nitrogen component should be limited or totally eliminated. But it is difficult to arbitrarily recommend a maximum amount of nitrogen that can be safely applied without hurting the clover-lespedeza stand.
"Generally, with clover present, nitrogen shouldn't be applied at a rate greater than 25 to 30 units per acre. Even that application rate can be detrimental to the clover, if proper grazing management is not maintained in spring," he said. "The nitrogen isn't harmful to the clover in itself, but it will cause the grass to be much more aggressive in its growth, which results in a poor stand of clover. The results are the same. It appears that nitrogen had a deleterious effect on the clover."
Mammen says if the soil is in a good state of nutrition, farmers can eliminate the use of nitrogen in a clover stand.
He says more information is available through Extension members in Missouri counties.