Brome and Fescue Management

(Jim) Good morning folks, welcome to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, your host and we’re in luck because we’re standing in a brome field here in Riley County on a bright spring morning. And the other fact is we have Dr. Stu Duncan, our Northeast Area Agronomist, is going to be joining us in a few minutes talking to us about brome and fescue management. So, come on back after these words from our sponsors and we’ll get this show on the road.

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(Jim) Good morning folks, welcome to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, your host and we’re in luck because we have Dr. Stu Duncan, our Northeast Area Agronomist today. Thanks Stu for being with us. And we’re going to be talking to Stu today about probably more pasture, brome and fescue. And there’s quite a bit of brome and fescue in the eastern part of the state and it’s a valuable crop. (Stu) Absolutely Jim. The brome acreage I know in northeastern Kansas alone is over half a million acres. And the fescue acres south of I-70 are going to be more than that kind of acreage. So there’s probably close to a million acres. Either one of them separately in the state. (Jim) And it fits well into producers operations and rotations. Maybe not so much rotations, but definitely the operation. (Stu) Absolutely Jim. Very important for early spring pasture and even some fall grazing once the native meadows, or native… (Jim) Native pastures? (Stu) …rangeland has gone dormant and they want to get off of it. Or when they want to give it some rest. This time of year it’s an excellent place for cattle that have just calved and their young ones to be out on the brome and the fescue. Pretty good solid footing. There’s some..just starting to come on now, but it’s a good place to sit. (Jim) For calving right. (Stu) Yea for calving and even post calving as we get those cattle ready to rebreed later in the season. They can get them fleshy. They can get their milk production up. They carry it pretty well through these. Right now, they’re going to be feeding hay yet. But we’re not very far from those pastures being ready for those cattle to be on ’em. (Jim) Right. And it produces a good forage-for grazing and for haying. (Stu) Excellent forage whether it’s grazing or haying. The carrying capacity on those brome and fescue pastures for that cow/calf pair is maybe somewhere in the…you can carry a cow/calf on two and a half acres of well fertilized brome grass versus at least two times, two and half, three times that much on our natives once they get out there. But a very good forage for fleshing those cows and getting them ready to rebreed. They do quite well on it. (Jim) Now fescue has always had a bad rap against it. Maybe not as good a quality as brome and then you have the toxicity problems as well with the fescue. (Stu) The endophyte fescue, that was a problem and has been, still is if the field or the pasture meadow is infested with endophyte. Early in the season, usually not so bad. It’s once it starts getting a little bit more mature and starts to go into that reproductive stage where it’s going to be heading out is when that fescue endophyte starts building back up. (Jim) OK. (Stu) It can be an issue on a fescue. (Jim) Right, right. Well Stu, we’ve got a signal here to take a break. And I want you to stay with us. And folks, I want you to stay with us as well after and come right back after these words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer. Stu Duncan is with us and we’re talking about pasture brome and fescue. Let’s continue that line of thought Stu on brome and fescue. What is happening when the farmer notices the yield, tonnage is going down? Or maybe not the pasture, it’s not producing as well. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? (Stu) Jim, that’s a really good question and one of the things that I always check is what is their nitrogen rate because for the excellent production, it takes nitrogen to grow good forage. This is a winter crop. You’re not getting any mineralization and release coming on from the soil. (Jim) That’s a good point. (Stu) And over the years we’ve conducted tests from all over the eastern half of the state with nitrogen fertility rates on fescue and on brome. And there’s a very linear relationship between production and nitrogen fertility on both of those crops. Brome specifically for every additional pound of nitrogen that is applied, over the years it will average about 20 to 30, 35 pounds of dry matter, depending of course on weather- how our rainfall goes. But there is still a very good, very linear response all the way up to 80-90 pounds of in. It will keep going up but it will fall down after that. (Jim) Right. So what would a normal…if you’re shooting what 2 ton, 2 1/2, 3 ton, what would be the top end in nitrogen rate for something like that? (Stu) On hay it would be somewhere in the 75 to 90 pounds. (Jim) Right. (Stu) It will produce more than that like I said at 120, but brome in particular is notorious for lodging when it’s over fertilized. (Jim) Right. OK. What about this producer though that has been putting on good rates of nitrogen through the years, that 70-80 pounds every year, but yet the tonnage or production is going down. Now what’s your next suspect? (Stu) Well, first off, I would never do it without a soil test to begin with, to give myself a benchmark. Phosphate fertilizer is my next big culprit, generally. And that’s one thing I’ve notice over the years, at least in northeast Kansas with our county extension agent demonstration program we’ve had brome grass fertility demonstrations… (Jim) You’ve been doing it for years and years and years. (Stu) I think 1973 were the first documented ones on campus. But the ones that we’ve conducted since I’ve been up here, when we have a low phosphate test in sight, we certainly get a response to the 20 to 30 units of phos. And you can apply that in the fall or in the spring, generally most of the fertilization now is done in the spring, once a guy’s producing a seed crop. (Jim) A funny thing, I’ve had producers ask me over the years, when should they put on phosphorus and I say yes. So, that’s the key thing. We’ve got to take another break here Stu. Hang on, I want to continue this line of thought. Folks, stay with us and we’ll be right back after these words from our wonderful sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, your host. And Stu Duncan didn’t run off during the break and glad you didn’t either. Welcome back. Stu, let’s continue fertility because I think that’s probably one of the more important things about forage production for brome and fescue. Let’s talk a little bit about…go back to nitrogen. When does nitrogen need to be on? (Stu) Nitrogen needs to be on when the crop is dormant, is best. It’s just starting to grow as we look down. (Jim) As we look down here. (Stu) We can see some green up. You’re still going to get a good response to it. As long as we get decent moisture. Phosphate usually you see the best results in the fall because it’s going to, just like with our wheat crop, it’s going to encourage buds, tillers and rhizomes and that development for the next spring. But we don’t have that much seed production in the state anymore. So an early spring before it breaks dormancy. If you need phosphorus, that’s when you’re going to put it on. But nitrogen we’ve still got some time yet this spring, but this is the first week of March. (Jim) But you don’t want it to go too much further than it already is. But you’ve seen some pretty good responses even up and growing. (Stu) Correct. And it will still respond. It’s just going to be really washy and you’re not going to get a very good bang for your buck. You may fertilize more weeds, even though we’ve got a good solid stand or sward out here, you’ll fertilize weeds too if you’re going a little late in the season. (Jim) Too late in the season. What about form? We talked about rate and timing, what about the type of nitrogen-dry, liquid? (Stu) Dry urea, dry ammonium nitrate which you can still get pretty easily in the eastern half of the state. Those are our two most common forms. Liquid UAN can go on brome just as well too and fescue. You’ll get a lot more leaf burn if it’s like this… (Jim) Or later. (Stu) It will grow through it. (Jim) Right. What about volatilization of those products, the dry. (Stu) Generally over the years we’ve had urea, ammonium nitrate compared to, ammonium nitrate is not going to volatilize. The issue you can get on with that is if you plant on frozen ground, you get a big rain, you’ll have green ditches and it will float off if you have runoff. Urea, we can have some volatilization when we have high temperatures, high winds, and low humidities and it’s sitting…you’ve got a damp surface. (Jim) A damp surface and the evaporation. (Stu) That can happen and that’s when that will happen. You can actually get a denitrification inhibitor… (Jim) Right. (Stu) …that will prevent that ammonium volatilization off the urea rather than adding ten more pounds, which is a common… (Jim) So basically if you’re applying urea or ammonium nitrate at this particular time, granted we’ve got quite a bit of wind going right now, but we really don’t have much evaporation going on. So, the chances of having volatilization is really not that high if you’re applying nitrogen at the appropriate time. (Stu) The 70 degree air temperatures are pretty critical. (Jim) Stu hang on, we gotta take a break. Folks, stay with us. We’ll be right back after these words.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm and with us we still have Stu Duncan our Northeast Area Agronomist and we’re talking about brome and fescue mainly fertilization. We haven’t talked about sulfur and we haven’t talked about pH. And those two things I think are pretty darn important on total overall production. So Stu, take it away. (Stu) I agree Jim, very critical. The pH is something that I look at almost immediately when production starts. That and phosphate. And either one you’ve got to pull a soil test to do it. Brome is generally pretty productive until we hit a pH of about 5.8, 5.7. Fescue will be a little more productive at lower pH levels than brome is. And I think that’s one of the reasons its appeal has been in southeast Kansas. Plus brome it’s always best to adjust your pH before you seed it down. We have a lot of metals like this that have been in brome or fescue for years. (Jim) And years. (Stew) And you don’t have that option. But you can spread a good quality high UCC lime or if you’ve got fineness?? to grind, a thousand pounds of actual material, a ton, ton and a half, two tons, you can apply that every two or three years. Just keep an eye on it. That’s just a ballpark, but doing it consistently and you will, over time see that pH neutralize or rise a little bit in those upper levels, so their phosphate will be more available of course, later. (Jim) That’s a good point. The two are tied together. But we’ve always heard that lime doesn’t move and you’ve eluded to the fact that the best thing to do is get the pH up prior to when you put the brome or fescue in, but you don’t have that option. So, we can expect obviously, the pH to increase or come up a bit, but applying over the top though. (Stu) Yes, it will be mostly in that surface inch or two. You’ll still have some filter down a little bit, but you’ll at least neutralize that…(Jim) That rezone. (Stu) From the addition of nitrogen. (Jim) And then again, like I talked about earlier, if a producer is putting on 70, 75 pounds every year, the chances that the pH is going to go down, with that continuing nitrogen rate obviously is going to occur. (Stu) Yes it does. Especially in those upper couple of inches. (Jim) Right. OK. What about sulfur? (Stew) Sulfur is something that we never consider-or I never considered it in brome grass until just the past few years. Over time, the sulfur has been scrubbed out of our atmosphere. Then the sulfur is also not in our fertilizer products like it used to be. Ammonium nitrate, you used to have a pretty good source of sulfur every year before that process was changed. But we’ve seen some pretty dramatic sulfur deficiencies almost field wide. And the 20 to 30 units of sulfur will help cure that. But you’ll see that early in the spring. (Jim) OK. (Stu) We will also see a response to sulfur even if you don’t see that deficiency, almost always in a brome grass stand anyhow. (Jim) OK, so are you saying we probably should be putting on sulfur routinely? Or how do you come by that? (Stu) You can still soil test for it, but I don’t know… (Jim) It’s more mobile like nitrogen. (Stu) Yes it is, very mobile in the soil. (Jim) OK, again, application time? With the nitrogen? (Stu) Yea, with the nitrogen is the best time to do it. (Jim) Stu, stay with us, we’ve got to break. Folks, stay with us as well. We have to take a break and we’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, your host and with us we have Stu Duncan. And Stu, I think we’ve covered fertility pretty well on brome and fescue, let’s talk about cutting management. (Stu) Sure, Jim. We of course, want to get…we want to cut our hay for optimum forage yield and… (Jim) Quality. (Stu) …quality. And of course, those lines intersect, one going up, one going down, at the same time. But generally cool seasons, we like to cut them just prior to the onset of bloom… (Jim) Right. (Stu) …and the pollination. And easily seen if you’re in a brome field. (Jim) Every producer in northeast Kansas, or even east central and southeast know when the cool season grasses have bloomed because you have that cloud, that dust going across the fields. (Stu) Absolutely. Or a wife who can tell it because her allergies go crazy… (Jim) Exactly. (Stu) …like mine does. We can make excellent quality hay at that point, up in the 12, 13 percent. A lot of that depends on our nitrogen fertilization and if we’ve added sulfur you’ll probably kick it up a little bit there too. But you know, normally eight percent, ten percent, good quality forage. We’d like to not cut it too close. (Jim) You mean too close to the ground? (Stu) You try and keep it above four inches. And with fescue a little bit of the same, you don’t want to nip off the buds. Brome tends to go dormant a little more easily because of high temperatures in July. There are summers that will grow all the way through, but you don’t like to leave that ground exposed to those high temperatures because you can do damage for later. And by giving it that chance to rest, of course that’s when most of the producers whether it’s haying or grazing, they’ll have their cattle off. They’ll be on a native range. They can go back to the brome or the fescue. Once the temperatures have cooled down, we start getting more… (Jim) In the fall. (Stu) …timely rainfall in August and September you can get some decent fall grazing. Fescue is generally a little better in the fall, it’s not as washy as brome is, but you can still get some pretty good cover back with brome and you can graze both of those into the fall. Fescue has worked very well for a stockpiling winter forage and they’ve used that a lot in the southern half of the state. It’s to get some good growth in the fall and leave their cattle on it late into the season. Extend their grazing season with it. (Jim) OK, OK, good deal. But I think the key thing back on the cutting management besides the four inches is that what do you want? Do you want tonnage or do you want quality? And I think that’s what you were eluding to a second ago. If you cut it before it blooms, you’re gonna have the better quality, but it’s not as much quantity. (Stu) Correct. And that’s something we’ve seen over the years with our research is we will kick that quantity up a little bit, and it’s right in there again, close to Memorial Day when we will have that criss cross event on time. Fescue is generally cut earlier than brome grass is. (Jim) Right. (Stu) It’s ready earlier in the season. (Jim) Stu, I want to thank you for taking time. (Stu) Thank you Jim. (Jim) Nice chilly morning and talking about the cool season forages for us. (Stu) Appreciate it Jim. (Jim) Folks, thanks for being with us on That’s My Farm. And don’t forget next week about this same time, we’ll have another issue of That’s My Farm. See you then.

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