It's time again to begin preparations for planting winter pasture in the fall. “The optimum time to plant winter pasture for forage in the Ardmore area is from Aug. 25 to Sept. 15,” said Chuck Coffey, a forage specialist with the Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Okla.

“Earlier planting runs a greater risk of stand loss due to drought or insect damage, and later planting has a greater risk of losing production due to lost opportunity of growing days.”

For example, it is estimated that for every day planting is delayed beyond the optimum planting date, 30 to 50 pounds of dry matter forage/acre/day will be lost in the fall.

“In other words, if Sept. 10 was the optimum planting date and you waited until Oct. 1 to plant, you will have potentially lost 600 to 1,000 pounds of fall forage production,” Coffey said. Unfortunately, he added, the optimum planting date is never known until after the fact.

The signs Coffey uses to determine when to plant include rainfall, temperature, wind, soil moisture and weather forecasts.

“However, if fall forage is a concern, I use Sept. 15 as the critical date for planting winter pasture, even if this means having to dust in the seed,” he said. Dusting in seed means seeding into dry soil as opposed to moist soil.

The main reason it is so critical to plant early is that after Dec. 1, temperatures are too cool for plants to grow effectively. Coffey said he assumes that by Dec. 1 producers usually have received 90 percent of the expected production for the fall season and should not expect any more significant growth until sometime in late February or early March.

Another way to increase the potential for maximum fall forage production is to adequately fertilize with nitrogen at planting time. This means applying 80 to 100 pounds of actual nitrogen/acre at planting or shortly thereafter.

Phosphorus is also an important consideration, since most of the soils in this region are inherently low in phosphorus as well as being slightly acidic. The best way to apply phosphorus is to band it with the seed at planting. However, if this is not an option, simply broadcast the fertilizer before or during planting.

The Noble Foundation's typical planting prescription for winter pasture is:

  • 100 to 120 pounds of rye (Oklon, Maton or Elbon) on sandy- to medium-textured soils, or 100 to 120 pounds wheat (Coker 9663, Jagger, 2174, Custer, or Lockett) on heavy-textured soils or soils that stay wetter than normal.

  • 15 to 20 pounds ryegrass (Marshall, TAM 90, Rio, Jackson, Ribeye).

  • 80 to 100 pounds of actual nitrogen.

  • P and K as recommended by soil testing.

  • Plant by Sept. 15.

  • Topdress in February, according to desired level of production.

“In the Ardmore area, if all goes well, you should produce enough forage to stock at a rate of 400 to 600 pounds of beef/acre from mid-November through March 1,” Coffey said. “If you choose to topdress in February with 80 to 100 pounds of actual nitrogen/acre, you should be able to stock at a rate of 800 to 1,200 pounds of beef/acre from March 1 through grazeout.”

Remember, the farther you live from the Ardmore area the more likely it is these general guidelines will be different.

The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, headquartered in Ardmore, Okla., is a non-profit organization conducting agricultural, forage biotechnological, and plant biology research; providing grants to numerous non-profit charitable, educational and health organizations; and assisting farmers and ranchers through educational and consultative agricultural programs.

To learn more, visit the Noble Foundation Web site at http://www.noble.org/index.html.