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Winter pastures good bet despite high seed costs

00:00AM Sep 08, 2008

Along with driving up the costs of inputs such as nitrogen fertilizer, high fuel prices are raising the cost of seed for ryegrass and other small grains, according to Lloyd Nelson, Texas AgriLife Research small grains breeder.

Ryegrass seed, which is used in winter pastures, will probably be about $60 a hundredweight this year, said Dr. Lloyd Nelson, AgriLife Research small grains breeder. "That's up about $10 a hundredweight compared to last year," he says. "I'm talking about premium varieties." The biggest reason in the increase is likely due to higher transportation costs.

Despite high seed costs, investing in some sort of winter pasture is still a sound economical venture, particularly for areas where the hay reserves have been depleted this year, says Ray Smith, AgriLife Research legume breeder also based at the Overton center. But the higher costs of production means producers will have to make some tough choices, he said.

As with any agricultural venture, choices are based on managing risk, with the least risky ventures often being the more expensive. For example, there are several alternatives to planting a ryegrass-clover mixture, Smith says.

A rye-ryegrass mixture is the least risky because it is easy – in comparison with clover – to get a good stand, Smith said. But the mixture does require high nitrogen rates, and that makes it the most expensive.

The next lower risk level is the ryegrass-clover mix. Clover is harder to establish than rye because timing and seed depth are critical for a good stand. As with the rye/ryegrass mix, good stands of both ryegrass and the clover will supply extended grazing in the winter and early spring.

Smith did not recommend cutting back on the standard nitrogen rate of 60 lb. per acre when planting ryegrass-clover mixes. If the producer finds the cost of nitrogen prohibitive, he or she should instead just plant a clover by itself.

"They'll lose about 30 days of grazing, but they will offset winter feeding costs, and the clover will provide N (nitrogen) for the warm-season grasses the next summer," he said.

One way to offset annual seed costs for clover is to manage some as reseeding stands, Smith said. Doing so entails suspending grazing on clover until it has time to make seed.

As an example, crimson clover could be grazed until about April 15 and then remove the cattle for about 30 days to allow seed production. By mid- to late-May, grazing could resume or the mature clover–grass mix could be harvested for hay. The producer will lose 30 days of grazing if he or she chooses this option, Smith said.

Another cost-saving measure is to plant only what one would use, Smith said.

For questions or comments, contact the Beef Today editors.