In areas like the Peace region, many producers include creeping red fescue or other perennial grasses such as timothy, brome or meadow brome in their crop rotations. One of the best strategies for removing perennial grasses from rotation is direct seeding into sod using a good disc air drill, or a shank air drill with narrow openers. The most important step is to remove the perennial grass with glyphosate in the fall prior to the planned crop rotation.
“Perennial plants take their nutrients down to the roots in the fall, so a fall application of glyphosate is the most successful for killing the roots,” explains Nick Underwood, Reduced Tillage Agronomist with Alberta Reduced Tillage LINKAGES in the Peace region. “However, in the spring, the movement in the plant is upwards and any chemical application will not translocate down to the roots or kill the plant. This is a major factor of success and applies to any kind of perennial grass producers want to remove from rotation.”
Creeping red fescue is typically grown for seed production and removed from rotation after two or three seed crops. Once the creeping red fescue has complete ground cover, it produces very little seed. “The fescue seed harvest is usually done in very late July or early August and in the year of removal left to regrow until the plants are about eight inches tall,” explains Underwood. “Creeping red fescue is a very difficult plant to kill, and with its narrow, waxy leaf, getting good herbicide contact can be challenging.”
The glyphosate application should be done in September while the crop is actively growing and applied at a rate of 2 litres/acre, using the old formulation of 360 grams/litre. One application is usually sufficient, providing there is adequate crop regrowth and the plant is still actively growing. With fescue it is hard to spot escapes in the fall in time to spray again. They are most likely freshly germinated tiny volunteer plants from the recent harvest operation and can be left for control in the spring.
“Roundup Ready canola is a good option to direct seed the following spring, and an in-crop Roundup application will control any creeping red fescue that may emerge,” says Underwood. “Another crop that can be grown after fescue is peas. Although you won’t be able to control any fescue escapes in-crop, peas are usually harvested early enough to do a post-harvest glyphosate application, which should control any remaining fescue plants.”
Fall grazing of fescue is an option once the crop is established. By grazing the field, the cattle clean up any residues and regrowth, making direct seeding the following spring easier. For producers who missed the fall application of glyphosate, Underwood recommends keeping the fescue crop another year and plan ahead to do the spray application next fall. “You have to kill
fescue and other perennial plants in the fall,” adds Underwood. “It makes so much difference to the success of sod seeding the following spring.”
Overseeding — Another Option For Improving Pastures And Hayland
Overseeding is an alternative to sod seeding for improving pasture and hayland stands, and producers in Clearwater County are making it work. “This strategy works well for producers with good grazing management systems who are looking to add grass or legume species into existing pasture or hay fields,” explains Kim Nielsen, manager of agricultural services in Rocky Mountain House.
Overseeding, which is commonly used in Europe and other places, allows producers to direct seed into green sod and with proper grazing management or haying, rejuvenate an existing stand. The key is to give the new small seedlings an opportunity to survive and prevent the old stand from crowding them out. Grazing or haying at the right time helps the seedlings get established and grow alongside the existing stand. The only additional costs are the seed and seeding operation, followed by a normal grazing or haying operation.
“The Clearwater County purchased an older JD 9350 hoe drill a few years ago and converted it to a 10-foot demo drill with a GEN direct seed opener for local producers to try direct seeding,” says Nielsen. “The machine was initially converted for direct sod seeding into annual crop stubble or killed sod, but we discovered it works just as well for overseeding into green sod stands.” Nielsen notes that these small old-fashioned hoe drills are relatively inexpensive and easy to convert, with suitable models including John Deere 9350 or 9450, Versatile 2000 and others.
The pasture or field should have been grazed or hayed the fall prior, so it’s easier for the direct seeding operation. “You can either direct seed in early May before the existing stand gets too tall, or late in the fall when the soil temperatures are low enough so the seeds won’t germinate,” explains Nielsen. The seeding depth should be shallow, just clearing the thatch to ensure good soil to seed contact. The seed drill with Gen openers and packer wheels does a much better job of ensuring soil to seed contact and improving germination than an older method of overseeding using chain harrows to scarify the sod.
For fields with existing stands of bunch grasses such as orchard or meadow brome, adding creeping red fescue, bluegrass or other species will help fill in bare areas. Legume selection will vary, but in Nielsen’s area most producers prefer alsike or New Zealand-type white clover and cicer milk vetch over alfalfa. “When using very fine-seeded legumes such as alsike or white clover, we suggest adding some grass seed to the mixture to make it bulkier and ease the calibration,” says Nielsen. “These older hoe drills did not typically come with a grass seed attachment, but with careful attention to the seed size of the mixture, the regular seedbox works very well when used for overseeding.”
Once the stand is established, grazing is recommended for mid-June with a second rotation later in September, or the first cut of hay in early July. To protect the seedlings, don’t graze the stand down too hard in June and leave a good rest period to make sure the seedlings have the strength to tolerate hoof action.
“We’re convinced that overseeding is a good option, particularly for those producers who are managing their stands through grazing,” says Nielsen. “We expect to be able to extend the life of these diverse rejuvenated stands for a long time.”