Category Archives: Forages

Forage Insect Update

We have had an interesting year so far in our hay crop. Our dry Spring kept us from truly getting started, and the current rain is keeping growers from cutting. We have hundreds of acres that hasn’t been cut yet. If it has been cut, it’s mostly been cut once. There is a very small amount of hay that has been cut twice.

This may be one reason we are seeing stem maggot in some fields. I stopped by this field Wednesday, and a large section appeared frosted. Stem maggot has done lots of damage here. The good news is we have yet to see fall armyworms. This too may be cause the rain.

UGA Extension Forage Specialist Dr. Dennis Hancock has given an update on some other insect issues throughout the state:

Bermudagrass Stem Maggot

Damage from bermudagrass stem maggot

Reports of the bermudagrass stem maggot have been coming in from all over the Coastal Plain and into the southern 2-3 counties in the Piedmont. I suspect with the abundant rainfall in most places, we will see BSM pressures similar to the heavy pressure we saw in 2013. Producers need to employ the standard suppression technique (labeled pyrethroid of their choice 7-10 days after cutting and again 7-10 days later, as needed). Moderate N fertilization rates, and good K fertilization minimizes disease and this seems to minimize BSM activity (but it doesn’t eliminate it). In the past, we have recommended spinosad, as well. Current research indicates this is not as effective as we believed it to be. Pyrethroids are our best option currently. We have a new Extension bulletin on BSM found at Bermudagrass Stem Maggot Research Update.

Fall Armyworms

Reports of fall armyworm are also starting to come in. Producers need to scout and spray if the threshold is reached. The newest bulletin is Caterpillar Pests in Pastures and Hayfields.

Where BSM activity is high and FAW pressure is imminent, consider using Besiege (Lambda-cyhalothrin for the BSM and active FAW; Chlorantraniliprole for residual control of FAW).

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Seeding Warm Season Perennials

Thanks to Colquitt County Ag Agent Jeremy Kichler for this info on seeding warm season perennial:

Fertility –  Soil sampling should be done a few months before attempting establishment. According to Southern Forges, if the area has a low soil pH then it may be advised to apply one-half of the recommended lime a few months in advance of planting and then till the field. After the tillage is completed then apply the reminder of the lime that is required. This helps distributes the lime throughout the soil profile.

Planting Date – Weather can delay establishment dates, defining the difference between success and failure. The best time to plant bahiagrass is in the early spring on upland soils or in late spring on low, moist soils. Plantings made later in the summer can be successful, but weed competition can be a problem. Seeded bermudagrass and bahiagrass can begin once soil temperatures reach and are expected to stay at 60 degrees.

Seeding Rate – Seeding cost is often a big psychological barrier in establishing forages. Essentially, the cost of seed is trivial compared to other costs of establishment, dealing with gaps in the stand during grow-in, and re-establishment. Seeding rate can be influenced by seeding method and seed quality. If broadcasting, seeding rates need to be increased by 20% compared to using a drill. Seeding rate recommendations are based on the assumption of high germination rates. If germination rates or vigor is questionable then increase seeding rates accordingly.

In Table 1, seeding rates are shown for three perennial forage crops in Georgia.

Seedbed Preparation – The seedbed should be relatively firm prior to planting. This is especially important for small seeded forages such as bermudagrass and bahiagrass. Firm the planting site with a cultipacker before seed is planted. If your planting site has ridges or depressions then they should be smoothed out, as they encourage moisture loss and challenge seed placement. Footprints left by an average person on a properly prepared seedbed should not be more than ¼ inch deep.

Seeding the crop – This is the hard part! A cultipacker seeder or a drill with a small seed attachment is helpful for seeding small seeded forage crops. Drills can be challenging with risk of planting too deep. A good rule of thumb is that seed should be planted no deeper than eight times the thickness of the seed. If the drill places the seed too deep after adjustment, you may need to disconnect the tubes from the small seed box where they enter the drill’s shoes AND  secure the drop tubes behind the shoes or in front of the press wheels with wires or other means. This allows the small seed to be metered out on the soil surface and pressed down into the soil by the press wheels.

An issue of ensuring sufficient seed to soil contact may challenge producers if they attempt to use the broadcast method of establishment. Conventional-till seedbeds should be firmed with a cultipacker before seed is broadcasted. Broadcast seeding on a prepared seedbed should be followed with adequate firming of the seedbed with a cultipacker. This would ensure good seed to soil contact.

If you are using a spinner seeder to broadcast small seeded forages keep in mind that the low seeding rates may cause challenges. Seed can be mixed with coarse sand or some other inert material that is similar in size and weight. Large volumes of smaller seeds should not be mixed with larger seeds in the hopper or seed boxes because the smaller seeds could settle to the bottom.

Once you have seeded your forage crop, table 2 below shows a check list of potential issues that producers could face.



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Forage Update

Bermuda pasture in late February

Except for this week, pastures are beginning to show some green. With February’s soil temperature high and air conditioning running in the trucks and tractors, everyone wants to get busy doing something. But, doing some things now may not be economical. UGA Extension Forage Agronomist Dr. Dennis Hancock has some answers to the most common questions as of right now:

I’m out of hay. Should I start grazing my permanent pastures now? Care needs to be taken to avoid turning out too early. Grazing fescue before it has at least a good amount of growth (8”) will cost you 25-50% or more of your spring yield potential. Hammering bermudagrass just as it is waking up will also cost you 20-40%+ of its yield potential. Given the duration of last year’s drought and the mild winter, my guess is that we will be on the higher end of that range. At a certain level, feeding hay now (if you can find it… I KNOW) may save grazing days/stocking rate later or even feeding a lot more hay later (especially if the dry spring that is forecast comes true). Just preaching caution.

[More info on this and some of the subjects below are included in “Late Winter Considerations.” This file was a handout from a meeting last week in the “Grazing for Profit” conference in TN. It was prepared by Dr. Jim Green, retired Extension Forage Specialist from NC State Univ. ]

Should I plant ryegrass to try to get some grass? It is very unlikely to be economical. If one counts what they have in it and considers they are probably won’t even get 1 ton/acre out of it (likely to get less than 0.5 tons/acre). More details in the attached article from Jim Green.

Should I fertilize bermudagrass now? It is still VERY early. Bermudagrass’s response to N right now is likely to be less than 10-15 lbs of DM/acre per lb of N applied, which is below or barely breakeven from an economics perspective.  Plus, too much N now could induce more rapid dormancy break and make the plant less hardy if we get a late freeze. Does anybody remember the 2007 Easter freeze? We lost significant acreage of bermudagrass stands due to putting out N too early, and getting 2-3 nights in mid-April below 20 F. This weather then was very similar to this year.

Should I plant pearl millet now? No. Soil temps at a 2” depth have to be above 65 F and stay above 65 F. Yes, soil temps hit 65 F at 2” in some areas this week. BUT, about 6 weeks ago in January they hit that same threshold in Tifton, too! It was crazy risky to plant pearl millet then and it is risky to plant it now. Keep in mind, pearl millet seeds monitor the weather AND the calendar (or, as they know it, daylength). Don’t plant before there are 12 hrs and 20 minutes of day length (Mar. 25). April 1st is a good rule of thumb for earliest plantings. By the way, this applies to sorghum x sudan and sudangrass, too.

What Can I Do? Scout and spray for weeds or stick a soil probe in the ground. After the drought and this wacky winter weather, weeds are gonna eat our lunch this spring if we aren’t careful. A LOT of hay was imported this winter. I’m not saying that hay was completely full of weed seeds, but one can only imagine the problems that were brought in via those bales. Plus, good soil fertility this spring will be crucial to getting the pastures and hayfields off to a good competitive start.

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Fertilizing Late Winter Forage


We were months late getting our winter forage planted this year. We didn’t have many options because of this, so most winter forage is ryegrass. Most of it is looking good now and very green. We haven’t had too much rain to leach nutrients, and weather has been similar to a normal October/November. We typically put 50 lbs of N at planting, in winter, and again in spring. We will still be able to get in another few fertilizers if need, but probably one less than normal. At this time, we need to check small grains for deficiency and put on another 50 lbs when we see the lower leaves yellowing.

N deficiency in triticale

N deficiency in small grain

Last season, winter rains leached our nitrogen from the soil, and timeliness with winter fertilization was critical. UGA Forage Agronomist Dr. Dennis Hancock sent out information on ryegrass last year to address issues with heavy rains:


Standard soil test recommendations are that one should put out 50 lbs of N/acre on ryegrass and small grains in late winter (late January – February) and another 50 lbs of N/acre on ryegrass in early spring (mid-March – mid-April). Applications of N at these rates are likely to result in more than 15-20 lbs of DM per lb of added N for the late winter application and more than 20-25 lbs of DM per lb of added N.  As a general rule of thumb, N response rates greater than 15-20 lbs of DM per lb of added N will result in an economical response.

The response to N (lbs of DM gained per lb of added N) has to be considered in context. To illustrate this, let us consider three scenarios:

Scenario 1) Ryegrass or small grains that have been slow to grow, either because of bad weather or N deficiency (and, sometimes, a late planting). These winter annual forage crops will often respond very aggressively to a winter application (20-30 lbs of DM per lb of added N assuming N rates are 40 – 60+ lbs of N/acre).  It is analogous to compensatory gains in growing livestock. It is the same basic principle: an organism that has had growth limitations will often grow at extraordinary rates whenever those factors are no longer limiting.

Scenario 2) Ryegrass or small grain plantings that have been growing strong. Winter annual forage crops in this scenario are unlikely to respond as aggressively to N at this time. For example, they may barely provide 15 lbs of DM per lb of added N during the few weeks following N application. However, this N is still crucial, as it keeps the plant growing at least at a healthy rate. Therefore, it is important to fertilize them at the same or nearly the same rates because they will need the fertility during the remainder of the season.

Scenario 3) Winter annual forages that have been moderate to severely damaged by disease (Helminthsporium leaf spot, grey leaf spot/blast, leaf rust, or barley yellow dwarf virus, etc.). These forage crops are unlikely to respond to N application. For example, tillers that are exhibiting physical symptoms of barley yellow dwarf (BYD) infection will die quickly, especially following a hard freeze. Therefore, if more than 30% of the tillers in a stand of oats have been damaged by barley yellow dwarf, those plants are unlikely to respond well to N. Each producer will have to determine if they are willing to take the risk, but if it were my oats, I doubt I would put any more N into those areas/fields.

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Tips For Feeding Baled Silage

Colquitt County Ag Agent Jeremy Kichler wrote this article on baled silage in the UGA Forage Newsletter:

Baled silage has increased in popularity among forage producers over the last few years. This production system, when compared to hay, can help producers avoid high losses associated with outside storage. Baled silage production can be an advantage to producers because of the ability to bale forage at a higher moisture content when wet weather patterns occur.

Cattle or forage producers should never leave baled silage exposed to air for more than two days during feeding. If the daytime temperature exceed 60 degrees F, then cut down exposure time to no more than one day. If you are using an in-line bale wrapper, you must feed enough animals to consume at least one bale per day in the winter. Once a bale is taken away to the feeding site, the next bale is being exposed to air which can result in wasted forage.


A poor choice in a storage site can increase the likely hood of holes appearing in plastic wrap, which results in oxygen  exposure. Once the bale is exposed to air, then the forage begins to deteriorate which results in additional feed costs. Baled silage needs to placed away from fence rows and trees which can cause holes in the plastic. Growers need to inspect stored forages on a consist basis in order to find and repair plastic holes quickly. If you have to repair small holes before the baleage is fed then patch the hole with tape that has been treated with a UV inhibitor.

Producers often struggle with baling forage at the correct moisture. Forages in this production systems need to be between 45-65% moisture before it is wrapped and ensiled. Baling the crop too dry is common because a field may start out at the right moisture and end up being too dry. Forage that is too dry does not contain enough moisture for bacteria to perform sufficient fermentation. If forage moisture is too high then spoilage occurs quickly when exposed to air.

If you have used an-line wrapper and need to feed a bale then simply spear into the bale, lift, and pull away. The plastic between it and the next bale will tear away. Then cut over the top and peel the plastic off in one large section. If you have individually wrapped bales, cut a large X in the end that will be speared and then pull back the flaps. Spear the bale, lift, and cut across the top and down the other flat side to peel the plastic off in one piece. In both cases, twine should then be removed before placing in the paddock and placing a feeding ring around the bale. Wastage and refusal are rarely an issue with feeding baled silage, unless a bale is being fed to too few animals.


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FSA – Livestock / Forage Disaster Program

This notice from Thomas County FSA in an effort to help cattleman producers. Please contact Thomas County FSA for more information:

Producers in Thomas County are eligible to apply for 2016 Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) benefits on native pasture or improved pasture.

LFP provides compensation to eligible livestock producers who suffer grazing losses for covered livestock due to drought on privately owned or cash leased land or fire on federally managed land.

County committees can only accept LFP applications after notification is received by the National Office of qualifying drought or if a federal agency prohibits producers from grazing normal permitted livestock on federally managed lands due to qualifying fire.  Eligible livestock producers must complete a CCC-853 and the required supporting documentation no later than January 30, 2017 for 2016 losses.

Additional Information about LFP, including eligible livestock and fire criteria, is available at your local FSA office or online at:

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Late Planting Of Winter Forage

There’s very little winter forage in the ground if any to consider, but for the most part, we have no forage or grain crops in the ground now. I looked at a field of wheat yesterday – for cover crop – which was very dry. Last night we had 1/2 inch or more of rain, enough to not make a difference. It’s either late or dry. UGA Extension Forage Agronomist Dr. Dennis Hacock has thoughts late planting forage:

For parts of Georgia and the Southeast, the forecast is as favorable as we’ve seen in a long time. Plus, the forecasted amount of rain is significant. This has resulted in a number of livestock producers asking about making late plantings of winter annuals for forage. 

I recently updated an older factsheet that I wrote in 2007 with Dr. Don Ball, now Professor Emeritus at Auburn University. This factsheet, titled Late Plantings of Winter Annual Forages, provides more details on what one should consider when thinking about a late planting of winter annuals. Here’s a summary of the most pertinent parts to today’s considerations:


Planting winter annuals late should be considered VERY RISKY and every consideration to alternatively feeding low-price commodities and by-products (corn gluten, soy hulls, wheat mids, etc.) should be evaluated from an economic standpoint. When making a late planting of winter annuals, it is important to remember that one should consider not only the cost of seed, but also fertilizer, fuel, labor, and other costs, as well as the risk involved. If planting in late fall and early winter, focus on planting annual ryegrass. Annual ryegrass is fairly cold tolerant in the Deep South, and ryegrass seed is relatively inexpensive. Still, if a producer is going to try ryegrass in a planting in late fall or early winter, it makes sense to plant a variety known to have the potential to make early growth. Regardless, one should remember that the late planted crop is at significant risk of winter injury and the grass plants will not have a chance to reach their tillering potential. Certainly, productivity of these forages will be greatly reduced from normal expected yields. It is impossible to predict how much yield reduction will occur, but a good manager that receives favorable weather MAY produce 2000-4000 lbs of dry matter per acre if planting in late fall or early winter with a good ryegrass variety. 

A good rain would do us all good. But, a good rain will not end this drought. We are by no means “out of the woods.” This may be one’s best shot at getting decent winter annual forage growth started, but one should count the costs. If you can afford to take the risk and it is your best option, go for it. But, if you are literally betting the farm on a late winter planting, don’t. The risk is too great! A more expensive alternative that has less risk would be a far better choice.

For more information on how to manage during this drought, visit the drought management page on, which includes management advice, links to hay directories, and much more.

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Bermudagrass Leaf Rust


It’s not unusual for us to be dry in October. But it is unusual to go into October already dry. Many folks have not seen one measurable rain in the month of October. As we walked through this Alicia hay field, our boots were covered in rust spores. Clouds of rust were seen with each step. Leaf rust this time of year is pretty typical in Alicia. We may not see it exactly this bad with Coastal.


Will rust, you will see red to orange lesions on the leaf and stem. Look for a raised area or blister which is the rust postules like we see in wheat and corn. Rubbing your finger over the leaf will leave a rusty color.

Leaf Rust

Leaf Rust

Leaf Rust

Postules of rust are raised


We cannot use fungicides on our hay fields, so management is strictly avoidance. Coastal, Tift 44, and Tift 85 have some level of resistance while Alicia is extremely susceptible. But even less susceptible varieties are infected with leaf spot when POTASSIUM is low. Most reported leaf spot cases are directly related to low soil potash. Nutrients are removed from bermuda hay fields in about a 4-1-3 ratio of N, P2O5, and K2O with harvest. We need 75 percent as much potash as nitrogen  applied each season. Split applications of K are better in sandy soils. In these cases, nearing the end of the season, we need to go out with another shot of straight potassium.

Visit Leafspot Diagnosis and Management in Bermudagrass Forages for more information.

Leaf rust on boots

Leaf rust on boots

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What Is The Value Of My Hay?

We’ve been blessed with more rain overall compared to other parts of the state. We had a slow spring with a very dry April and May and some weird fertility issues to start the season. Below is bermuda field picture taken in May. You can see the yellow tint in parts of the field that we thought was related to fertility.


Many producers have cut hay three and four times. Our rain has been decent in amount, but it has all come at once. We started very dry, then would get 7″ and 9″ at a time. The summer was fair with more timely rain. We got dry before the tropical storm, and then had lots of rain from Hermine.


Today we did a forage sample to test hay quality. This is very important in determining if we need to supplement our hay. Will Lovett, Ag Agent in Bacon County writes a really good article on the value of your hay:

One of the most common questions I get asked as an extension agent is “What is the value of my hay?”  This common question does not have a simple answer. What I tell producers…. is it depends.

The first step in developing a value for your hay is determining your cost of production. This is important whether you plan to sell your hay or feed it yourself. The best way to establish your cost of production is by calculating your hay cost per ton or per bale. As you begin this process you will need to your fixed and variable costs. Fixed costs will include line items such as interest, rental, depreciation, taxes, insurance, etc. One thing I always advise my clients is to be sure and include machinery costs in their calculations, because as we all know eventually our equipment will need to be replaced.   Fixed cost may vary significantly between producers depending on the number of bales produced per year and each person’s investment in equipment. Variable cost will fluctuate with the level of production. Variable costs include items such as fertilizers, chemicals, labor, fuel, etc.

The following formula would be used to calculate cost per bale or ton.

Total Cost per ton(bale)=   Total Fixed Costs + Total Variable Costs

                                                                Total tons(bales) produced

As you move forward with cost determination, those who are planning on selling their hay need to be aware of what the market is willing to pay. Many niche or specialty markets, such as “horse quality” square bales can command a significant premium per ton over round bales. Take the time to investigate your area and include your findings when determining your selling price.

If you are producing hay for your own use or plan to market your hay based on Forage Quality, you need to know the nutrient composition of your hay. The concentration of nutrients (Crude Protein, TDN, Fiber Content or digestibility) cannot be determined by the feel, texture, smell or color. Just using these parameters can often times lead producers astray.


The photo below is a good example. Even though the bales in Lot 1 are sun bleached they actually test higher in overall nutrient content.

The only way to determine the true quality of a forage is to Forage Test. The average cost of a forage test is less than one round bale of hay. UGA’s recommendation is to sample each cutting of forage from each field. The information you gain from forage testing will allow you or your customer to make more informed feeding/supplement decisions. Table 1 shows how forage quality effects the supplement needs, i.e. cost of a lactating beef cow.


Table 1. The effect of bermudagrass and tall fescue maturity on hay quality, supplementation rate, and cost of supplementing a lactating beef cow.

So why not just use table 1 to estimate quality for my hay?

Even a small change in nutrient value can have an impact on hays’ dollar value. Using the nutrient ranges in the chart above, Good Bermudagrass Hay cut at 4 week intervals will range in “average” nutrient value from 10-12% for crude protein and 58-62 % in TDN (energy levels). So is there any difference in “worth” between 4 week Bermudagrass hay that is 12% protein AND 60 TDN AND 4 week Bermudagrass hay that is 10% protein and 58% TDN? Yes! I entered hay with both values into the UGA Basic Balancer for beef cattle to compare. The 10% protein and 58% TDN valued hay required almost 3 pounds of soyhulls/distillers grain supplement to meet protein and energy (TDN) needs. The lower nutrient value hay cost $0.13 more per cow per day to feed. This means that the higher protein and TDN is “worth” nine dollars more per ton. I also compared 4-week old hay to 8-week hay using the UGA Basic Balancer. This comparison revealed a $35 per ton difference in value at current commodity prices.

Like I said, the value of your hay depends on many different variables; however, it is key to know your production costs and the true nutrient content of your hay. This information combined will be the best predicator of what your hay is worth to you.

This article contains information from Dr. Curt Lacy’s Economics of Hay Production and UGA Extension Bulletin 1425, Understanding and Improving Forage Quality.

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Dollar Spot In Bermuda Pasture


Last week, I mentioned seeing leaf spot in the pasture. UGA Extension Pathologist Dr. Alfredo Martinez wanted to confirm what appeared to be fungal structures on the leaves as well. The last few years, we’ve looked at leaf spot pathogens in hay fields. Usually, it is leaf blight (Helminthosporium) or leaf rust. What we looked at a few weeks ago appeared to be more damaging to the lower leaves. The lesions of dollar spot are white to straw colored surrounded by a brown border. This was affecting the lower leaves bad. This is the first time I’ve seen dollar spot in pasture. It is maintained the same as helminthosporium and/or leaf rust. Keep in mind, this pasture was burned off last season.

Dollar Spot

Dollar Spot

Looking at the pasture, Tim Flanders noticed these odd structures on the leaves. They almost looked like a fertilizer granular. Dr. Martinez plated them out and did find them to be fungal related. There were basically some saprophytic fungi that ARE NOT associated with the dollar spot.

Dollar Spot lesions

Dollar Spot lesions


Management is strictly avoidance. Coastal, Tift 44, and Tift 85 have some level of resistance (to leafspot pathogens) while Alicia is extremely susceptible. But even less susceptible varieties are infected with leaf spot when potassium is low. Most reported leaf spot cases are directly related to low soil potash. Nutrients are removed from bermuda hay fields in about a 4-1-3 ratio of N, P2O5, and K2O with harvest. We need 75 percent as much potash as nitrogen  applied each season. Split applications of K are better in sandy soils. It is also advised to remove inoculum that exists in thatch. In addition to tying up nutrients, thatch holds water and reduces air circulation. This is a conducive environment for inoculum. The only practical way to reduce thatch is burning in spring before green-up.

Visit Leafspot Diagnosis and Management in Bermudagrass Forages for more information.

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