Anthony S. Lerch, District Technician/Educator, Stark Soil and Water Conservation District
(Previously published in Farm and Dairy: June 10, 2021)
Have you noticed that your hay yields are lower than years before? Are you not getting the number of bales that you have in years past? Or maybe your hay stand does not look as strong compared to previous years?
It may be time to re-seed or overseed your hay fields. When is it the right time to re-seed your hayfield? Is it in the spring? A fall seeding maybe? There is always frost seeding in the late winter. The truth is, it all depends on your soil conditions and how you choose to manage your fields.
There is no one size fits all answer to overseeding your fields. During the early spring, it is crucial to get your soil pH and your soil fertility within the proper ranges for the type of seed you are planting. This can be done with an in-depth soil test, which gives you a better look into what your soil needs and whether you need to reduce or add fertilizer to get within the necessary range.
Using a higher quality seed will give you a longer stand life with better yields. Consider planting into an existing seedbed with a no-till drill to avoid overworking the soil, causing moisture loss and running the risk of surface crusting. Using a no-till drill will also help greatly reduce the chances of soil erosion.
Getting ready for the following year’s hay crop? Maybe you are too busy in the spring to reseed or overseed your hay fields. Do not worry — fall seeding is another great option to improve your stand for the upcoming year. Planting in mid-September through early November could produce stands with visible plants before the first frost.
The later you wait to plant, the less likely there will be a visible plant by the first frost. Frost seeding is designed for the change between winter and spring. Frost seeding means broadcasting seed over a hay field and letting the natural freeze and thaw weather of late winter and early spring help move the seed into the soil.
When broadcasting seed it is important to have very little residue on the area you intend to broadcast over. This gives the seed a better chance at getting good seed to soil contact earlier in the season. Frost seeding will not work if there is too much residual vegetation on the field, as the seed will get caught up in the existing residue.
To ensure you have good seed to soil contact, have your hayfield grazed down or do a low mowing. This will get your seed as close as it can, to help the freeze/ thaw process.
Frost seeding is not just for hayfields. It can be used in pastures as well. For all the areas in your fields that are thinner than the rest or that have a hard time growing, frost seeding could give a nice head start.
When it comes to broadcasting seeds, there are a couple of things to consider. What do you have currently planted? Do you have an accurate soil test and the correct pH for what you want to plant? Do you have a seasonal species?
Consider broadcasting legumes on your field as a frost seeding, since legumes are heavier than grass seeds, which allows them to sift past the existing residue.
Frost seeding is also a good way to reduce soil compaction, as you can use a multitude of different types of equipment to broadcast, such as four-wheelers and other small equipment. This also allows for more precise application.
If you are looking for increased hay yields on aging fields that have been producing less and less each year, any option above listed can potentially help. The first step is identifying what your soil needs. Start with an in-depth soil test. The next step would be to make sure to give your soil what it needs — increase or reduce fertilizer to correct deficiencies.
After you have done that, decide what you would like to plant and get the application that best suits your needs. If you are interested in a no-till drill, reach out to your extension office or local soil and water conservation district. They may have one available for rent or a list of people that can be contracted to do the work.