These cattle producers use sod seeding with field peas to reduce fertilizer costs and improve economic returns

For beef-cattle producers with perennial forage stands, sod seeding is proving to be a successful option. The decision to plant field pea instead of oats or another cereal in the first year reduces fertilizer requirements and input costs and provides a good economic return. Proper termination of the sod the fall prior and proper seed placement are important factors for good yields.

Dwayne Kalinsky of Kalinsky Farms Ltd. farms 3,000 acres and runs 200 head of cattle near Iron River, Alta., in the MD of Bonnyville. He has been seeding peas into sod for the last few years and it is now his first choice over oats or other cereals. “We used to seed oats into sod, but those old hay fields are fairly depleted and you have to fertilize quite heavily,” says Kalinsky. “With the high fertilizer prices over the last two or three years, peas have been a really good option. We can get away with using an inoculant and no fertilizer, and still get good yields.”

To spray out the sod in the fall, Kalinsky uses a rate of 2.25 litres/acre of Roundup plus 2,4-D ester. “We usually do a second glyphosate application of one litre/acre in the spring after seeding, but just before the peas come up,” says Kalinsky. “We’ve had very good results and sometimes we hardly need an in-crop application in those hay fields, although in some fields we use an application of Solo on peas.”

Kalinsky uses a zero-till disc seeder with Barton openers, but notes others using a narrow knife like a Seed Hawk also get good results. Last year he replaced his older Barton opener with the new Barton III. “I prefer to seed 1.5 to two inches deep to make sure the seed goes below the sod root layer and into the good soil below,” explains Kalinsky. “We make sure to seed peas early and deep enough for good yields.”

Although moisture has been a problem over the past couple of years, Kalinsky averaged 40 bushels/acre on 450 acres of peas seeded into sod in 2009. “In areas with more moisture, the monitor showed yields of up to 70 bushels per acre, but on average yields were around 40 bushels per acre,” says Kalinsky. “Neighbours in a higher moisture area averaged 65 bushels per acre on their peas seeded into sod.” He usually sells the peas into the edible market and will sometimes bale the straw for feed or bedding, depending on the year.

Kalinsky will follow peas with a cereal and keep the field in annual crops for at least two years before returning to a forage. “Although I don’t like to, in fields with a big grass problem I will consider following peas with Roundup Ready canola to help with weed control,” says Kalinsky. “In some of the old fields, dandelion can be a big problem and in those infested fields I will seed oats into sod so we have options for dandelion control.”

Ralph McGregor of Sampson McGregor Stock Farm is Kalinsky’s neighbor, and has been sod seeding for a few years, usually seeding oats for swath grazing or green feed. McGregor has 150 head of purebred cattle and operates a mixed farm with 300 acres of grain, 400 acres of hay and about 900 acres of mixed tame and bush pasture. In 2008 he decided to try seeding peas into an 80 acre old hay field.

“We learned a lot and probably should have asked more questions up front, but we certainly had success and plan to sod-seed peas again,” says McGregor. “Oats is fairly forgiving, seeding depth doesn’t matter as much and grassy weed problems aren’t as critical. However, oats require a lot more

fertilizer, so by switching to peas I can save $40 per acre on fertilizer.”

McGregor tries to spray out the sod by about August 25 most years, using an application of two litres per acre of glyphosate plus one-half litre per acre of 2,4-D. “We had drilling mud sprayed on parts of the sod prior to the glyphosate application and with the dry conditions it caused some problems,” adds McGregor. “In most years, getting a half inch of rain within a week or two after the drilling mud is sprayed, you never know it is there. Unfortunately in the fall of 2008, it was very dry and the drilling mud formed a clay film over parts of the field, interfering with a good kill of the grass/alfalfa.” Land spreading of drilling mud is a common practice in the area and usually doesn’t cause any problems, although it may be a consideration for fields for sod seeding.

Seed placement with peas on sod is very important, and McGregor found his older Haybuster 1000 zero-till drill didn’t perform as well as he would have liked. He tries to seed to about 1.5 inch deep, but the weight of the drill varied considerably between being full and empty, causing uneven seeding depth. The drier moisture conditions and uneven seed placement, combined with the drilling mud problems and areas of poor alfalfa kill resulted in an uneven crop stand. He used a pre-harvest glyphosate application of one litre/ acre to try to get the crop to dry more evenly, and to control the grass growing in the drilling mud areas.

“We’ve learned that preparation and seeding are important factors of success and in the future I would have to improve my seed drill or hire a custom seeder with better equipment to ensure proper seed placement of peas,” says McGregor. “In areas where we got really good seed placement yields averaged 40 bushels per acre, but in the poorer areas yields dropped to 10 bushels per acre.”

During the summer, McGregor dug up some of the pea roots and found really good nitrogen fixation on the roots. He is planning to seed CPS wheat on the pea stubble and is hoping spring soil tests will show he won’t need to fertilize as much. “If I can save $40 per acre on fertilizer on the pea crop on sod the first year, and maybe $20 per acre on a cereal in the second year, then I have saved $60 per acre in expenses just in fertilizer by selecting peas,” says McGregor.

Both Kalinsky and McGregor plan to continue seeding peas into sod. “We are pleased with the results of seeding peas on sod, and with higher returns than oats, they really fit the bill,” says Kalinsky. “You also benefit the year after peas, the sod is breaking down more and it’s a lot easier on the fertilizer bill. There is always an extra bonus on the crop following peas.” McGregor adds, “trying to cut down on input costs was one of the reasons I decided to try peas, and it has proven to be a good option. With what we have learned, we should be able to minimize our risk even more and realize more benefits from seeding peas into sod.”

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