Forage Specialist David Ditsch with the University of Kentucky visited WCHS to talk with farmers.

As fertilizer prices sore to unbelievable prices and farmers in urgent need of restoring pastures damaged during the 2007 drought, one University of Kentucky forage specialist says – there is hope.

Everything is not doom and gloom as local farmers can restore those pastures lost or damaged during the Easter freeze and drought of last year. One solution is to seed with clovers, which has the ability to take nitrogen from the air and put it into the ground.

During the Eastern Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association regular meeting Tuesday, Dr. David Ditsch, forage specialist at University of Kentucky, was the guest speaker who offered suggestions to local farmers with injured pasturelands.

“I have been making farm visits lately, and I’ve never seen our pastures in such poor shape,” he commented to those attending the meeting at West Carter High School in Carter County. “Many of us punished our pastures last year in order to keep from feeding grain. And one way to get those pastures into shape is get the clover back into them. And, the red and white clover is what we are after. The red is best for hay fields and white clover works well in pastures.”

Ditsch said the current weather conditions are causing the soils to frequently freeze and thaw which makes it the best time to apply clovers to pastures.

“I believe the red clover to be the best,” he commented. “And I highly recommend that you get ‘certified’ seed. When you buy the certified, it’s already coated with bacteria and those bacteria’s are important to the pastures. However, don’t make the mistake of buying ‘common’ seed. It’s not coated, and it’s not a good variety, making it best to just go ahead and pay the extra that will improve the quality of your pastures.” Ditsch said 50 pounds of certified coated seed equals about 30 pounds of seed.

Ditsch did stress the importance of soil testing. “It’s all guess work without a soil test, so don’t fail to do that for those of you who haven’t applied lime to your pastures,” he advised. “There is no better insurance than a soil test (costing about $5.50) with fertilizers as high as they are right now. Seed is expensive and if you want to make sure your soil pH is not out of whack.”

Ditsch said low pH means the essential bacterium is dead. (Soil pH is referred to as the acidity of the soil and is measured by the number of Hydrogen ions present in the soil solution. When the soil pH is too acid low pH or alkaline high pH, nutrients present in the soil become locked-up or unavailable. Correcting the pH has the same effect as applying fertilizer since it unlocks plant nutrients already present, according to

One high-quality lime is pelletized, Ditsch said. But, he doesn’t recommend that farmers should price that particular costly lime.

“When you have a soil test done, U.K. will determine the amount of lime you will need,” he said. “And, the quality of limes varies across the state. I do urge that you don’t rush out and price pelletized lime because Ag-lime also will do well.”

Ditsch said some mistakes could be made when applying seed to pastures. He said it’s important to follow some important rules.

• Soil tests shouldn’t be taken more than four-inches deep.

• Test soils in the most non-active zones of pastures

• Test 20 acres maximum per soil sample.

“Avoid collecting several soil samples and putting them into a bucket,” he told the farmers. “Areas of watering spots and under trees are normally high in urine. You don’t want soil from such areas mixed with other soil samples.”

Ditsch said farmers should think of their pastures as crops. Although Kentucky is known as the ‘Fescue state’ – growing 5.5 million acres of Fescue each year – Ditsch said fescue with ‘Endophyte fungus’ has affected some 85 percent of pastures in Kentucky. Those fungi can problems in pregnant cows and mares, he said. Although, he did recommend KY 31 Tall Fescue ($1.50 - $2.00 pound) to farmers, but urged that the fescue be tested for high alcohloid.

Another option would be to use the ‘novel fescue’ ($4.00 pound), which already has fungi growing on it and has no negative affect on cattle or horses. He said the novel product has been released as “Max Q” and will “hold up.”

However, Ditsch said one way to deal with existing endophyte infected stands of pastures is to dilute the fescue with clovers, which reduces the amount of alcohloid.

“You have to manage to minimize the affected stands by diluting the endophyte,” he said. “You may even have to kill the infected stands and replant them, so your cows don’t get heavy doses of accolade.”

Ditsch’s rules-of-thumb include:

• Pastures with less than 25-percent infestation – do nothing

• Pastures with 25 to 50-percent infestation – add clover to dilute

• Pastures with over 50-percent infestation – replace stands

Ditsch said when nitrogen fertilizer management is a farmer’s choice; it’s best to be applied in the fall. “It’s very expensive, so don’t put it down (spring) if you are going to clover,’ he advised. “It will stomp out the clover and waste your money.”

Last, Ditsch recommended that farmers’ seed clovers in late winter or early spring, and grasses, such as fescues, should be seeded in the fall. “If you seed your grasses in the spring, you will have a problem with crabgrass which is more aggressive and will take over,” he said. “

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