Be Smart About Pasture Renovation

– Marvin Hall, Professor of Forage Management, Penn State

Three things that could greatly improve the potential for “big returns” when renovating pastures are soil fertility, pasture management and reduced weed competition.

September is the prime time for many producers to be undertaking a pasture renovation project. No-till or broadcast some seeds into a “weak” pasture and hope for the best next summer. A small investment with the potential for big returns, right? Not always. When I see farmers renovating their pastures year after year with little success, I’m reminded of one of grandfather’s favorite expressions: “You can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig” (no offense meant to you pork lovers out there). Here are a three things that could greatly improve the potential for “big returns” when renovating pastures.

Optimize soil fertility

Low soil fertility may be why the existing pasture is “weak”. Taking a soil test and applying sufficient fertilizers to bring the soil nutrient level up to optimum will not only help the new seedlings but also the existing plants.

Optimize pasture management

The existing pasture may be weak because it has been overgrazed. Allowing the plants a “rest period” to recover between grazing events will increase the number of animals the pasture can sustain and reduce the need for pasture renovation.

Minimize weed competition

Planting seeds of a desired pasture species into a weedy pasture, without suppressing the weed competition, seldom results in better pastures. Controlling weeds is important to allow the new forage seedlings to establish and become competitive against the weeds. Optimizing soil fertility and pasture management are very beneficial in controlling weeds.