The shiny, crisp 2023 Weed Manual hit my desk last week. Containing the University of Tennessee’s weed control recommendations for corn, soybeans, tobacco, farm ponds, and forage crops it will finish the year dog-eared and coffee stained.
Row croppers, homesteaders, kitchen and market gardeners, and livestock producers all battle weeds and it’s time to start planning your weed control strategies. In forage systems herbicides applied per the label provide an element of control, but there is a lot we can do to combat many warm season weeds while increasing forage production before applying chemicals.
Our fairly mild, wet, and mud filled winter means livestock farmers are struggling with severely pugged pastures, bare spots, and complete soil disturbance around high traffic areas including feeding pads, hay rings, and along farm roads. Disturbance means mud, mud means weeds, and weeds mean reduced forage production and more weeds. Weed pressure is expected to be high in 2023, but before you rush out to buy herbicides for summer applications, you can get ahead of those weeds now.
The best strategy for tackling summer weeds in pastures and hayfields is outcompete them. Fast-growing desirable forages block sunlight from hitting the soil and triggering weed-seed germination. You could sow tall fescue, but you will be disappointed. Hay-feeding often lasts into April, well past the ideal window for planting fescue. In fact, September is the time to sow cool season perennials including tall fescue, orchard grass, and timothy. Spring sown tall fescue seedlings may not establish a root system able to withstand the hot, dry summer and may be outcompeted by those nasty weeds we’re trying to avoid.
A more effective solution is seeding a cool-season annual such as annual ryegrass (20lbs/acre) or oats (2 bu/acre) in early to mid-March, grazing it down in mid- to late May and broadcasting crabgrass (4-6lbs/acre) for summer grazing and cover. Lawn aficionados hate crabgrass with a passion, but it is an excellent summer forage. In September sow tall fescue or a winter annual such as wheat or rye if you plan to feed in the same area again. If hay feeding lasts until mid-April, skip the annual seeding and sow crabgrass when soil temperatures reach 60 degrees. Both options require some tractor time preparing a fine, firm seedbed, but crabgrass is forgiving and typically takes with little effort – ask your lawn loving neighbor. These strategies are particularly effective against spiny pigweed.
Go on the offensive against weeds. Sow desirable forages before applying herbicides and if your typical winter-feeding system leaves large amounts of damaged pasture, it’s time to try something new such unrolling, installing a heavy use area, or constructing a fence line feeder.