Forage Production

Photo: Lakota Prairie Grass (Brome)


Forage production depends on temperature, rainfall, and fertility.  Water limits forage yeild more often than any other factor.  Annual rainfall will not tell the whole story.  The timing of the rain is very important and must take place during the active growing season.  The amount of rainfall in a single occurrence also has an impact.  A 1" rain should have a greater yield than 5 separate occurrences of .2" of rain spread over time.  The reason is that small rains do not penetrate as deeply in the soil, allowing evaporation to pull most of the moisture from the ground.  Hard rains tend to runoff especially when the ground is bone dry.  Established sods will greatly reduce the effect.  Water holding capacity depends on soil type, with clays holding the most and sandy soils holding the least water.  Organic matter also increases water retention and plays a major role in fertility because it contains carbon compounds that will actively participate in the nutrient cycling of plants and microorganisms.  The essential nutrients must be present for good fertility, including air, water, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, calcium and the necessary micronutrients.


One way to increase production in low precipitation environments is to choose a variety better adapted to dry conditions. The more leaves a plant has the more water it will loose through transpiration.  Drought resistant plants typically put more energy into root growth than other varieties.  Max Q II is one such variety of tall fescue.  Selecting the right variety along with proper timing and fertility will put forage production.  In some circumstances chemical control of competing weeds maybe necessary.  


Cool season grasses are normally planted in the spring during February and March and in fall during August and September.  Spring seeded stands are at risk of a drought before they can develop deep enough roots to find summer moisture.  Fall seedling stands have the advantage of a more developed root system in the summer when droughts are more likely to occur.  Fall seedlings also face lower weed pressure during establishment.  Moisture is the main antagonist for fall seeding. 


Warm season grasses depend on the variety but can be seeded early in April and May.  Many varieties can be done mid-summer without any real disadvantage.  Weed pressure can be a major factor in establishment.  Warm season grasses are not as nutritious as cool season grasses and they mature out very quickly.  Clipping is necessary in pastures to keep the grass in a productive vegetative mode.  Warm season grasses also require more nitrogen to be productive and 3 applications is not uncommon in high output operations.  Production systems based around perennial warm season grasses like Bermuda, fields often are over-seeded with an annual such as annual ryegrass, rye grain, wheat, oats, or a combination of those to make nearly year round forage on a single footprint.  Rest and establishment periods will be necessary to capture an economical yield. 


For more specifics you many want to follow one of these links: Field RenovationRotational GrazingForage Seed, or Forage Legume Seed.  More details fertility and establishment of different forage plants please see the section below, after "Other Links for Forage Production". 


Other Links for Forage Production

This 4 book series is an excellent resource:


You may also be interested in these articles:

More about managing forage crops:

For information about establishing forage crops:

For information about indicators of nutrient deficiency, please see:


Specific Fertility & Establishment for Forage Species

Coming soon ....

Move to forage seed section?