Bump Fall Forage Production

Gain 2 Pounds of Forage for Every Pound of Weeds Removed From Pastures

Weed control in fall pastures can bump up forage production now and into the spring. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Victoria G. Myers)

Cattle producers have a window this fall to set the stage for a bump in forage production. This is especially true in the Southeast, where cool nights and warm days are the perfect environment for cool-season forage production now.

Sam Ingram, range and pasture field scientist with Corteva Agriscience, told DTN that a strategic herbicide application this time of the year can lead to an immediate increase in the forage base for the fall.

"And this really sets those forages up for success in the spring," he stressed. "We don't even see all the weeds that are out there now. We won't notice them 'til spring. If we control them early when they are most susceptible to herbicides, we remove that competition for cool-season forages to tiller more, get good growth, and then come late spring, those cool-season forages will take off."


Many parts of the country are still experiencing aftereffects of drought on pastures. There is a lot to be gained in these areas from a strategic weed control program, aimed at keeping weed pressure down in areas where the forage canopy has thinned or opened due to drought stress.

"Weed seed needs sunlight, moisture and nutrients. So, where the forage canopy isn't covering, we will see heavier weed pressure develop. Those weeds will fight for nutrients that could be going to our forages, and they will fight for moisture against our forages. If we eliminate that competition, we give our forages the opportunity to truly recover," said Ingram.


In the current environment of high feed costs and a strong cattle market, producers with an eye toward profit margins will evaluate how to boost forage production. Good, healthy and productive forage is the lowest-cost way to keep cattle in good body condition and calves gaining.

Ingram explained: "Broadleaf weeds compete for moisture and nutrients that grasses need during the important post-grazing fall recovery period. Controlling weeds in fall will help pastures grow faster next spring, along with developing a thick grass cover that can work to prevent future weed infestations."

Ingram noted fall is a good time to target many biennial and perennial species, including thistles, horsenettle, knapweeds, and tall ironweed. Clearly, the more forage in a pasture, the better the carrying capacity.

"When we remove competition from broadleaf weeds, we increase our carrying capacity. So, if we're looking to retain heifers and build back herds, this is an important step, and it's also a case of forages being the cheapest feed for cattle," stressed the field scientist.

For producers still in areas of active drought where weeds are not actively growing, Ingram said weed control can be more challenging. "Because weeds need to be actively growing to get good control, and every situation is unique, I advise producers to work with area experts who can make the right evaluation in terms of timing for weed control," he said.

Asked about the expense of herbicide when profit margins are tight, Ingram said it's important to remember that forage is the cheapest feed source for cattle.

"A herbicide application allows you to capitalize on your forage base. Removing 1 pound of weeds typically means you get 1.5 to 2 pounds of forage in return. Pencil that out, and forage is my cheapest forage source."


Cooler fall temperatures combined with late-summer rains bring on a flush of perennial regrowth and germinate a new flush of winter annuals and biennial plants, such as musk and plumeless thistles. These lush plants and seedlings are especially susceptible to herbicide treatments, providing a better return on investment. Ingram recommended a product with residual control to stop weeds into the early spring months.

While regrowth of tough, deep-rooted perennials isn't as easy to kill as a young thistle rosette, Canada thistle and tall ironweed respond well to fall treatments for other reasons. With winter approaching, perennials begin to move nutrients deep into their root systems for storage. Fall-applied herbicides travel with those nutrients, resulting in excellent root kill and more complete control, said Ingram.

"Perennial species are great candidates for fall treatment," Ingram noted. "You can get a lot better control of thistles, dogbane, milkweeds, and horsenettle with well-timed fall applications. Late-fall application also can be very effective on seedling biennials, such as plumeless and musk thistle and common burdock, along with winter annuals."

In most regions, September is the ideal timing for treatment, but Ingram said herbicides can be applied up to the first hard frost. Delaying treatment until after the first frost but before a hard freeze with visible leaf damage will help improve control.

"Going with a broad-spectrum herbicide, such as DuraCor, simplifies fall applications," Ingram said. "One product takes out almost all important annual, biennial, and perennial broadleaf species, and provides the residual control that gives grasses time to get up and growing in the spring."

For more information go here: https://www.corteva.us/….

Victoria Myers can be reached at vicki.myers@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @myersPF