December 2010
Forage Matters

Forage Program Success

Even the best forage/livestock producers experience failures and disappointments; they are unavoidable in farming. Yet, some producers seem to "defy the odds" by being successful with their forage production efforts an unusually high percentage of the time. What might such producers be doing differently that consistently allows them to enjoy frequent great success while others are less successful? There is no one simple answer to such a question, but here are some things that may help explain the difference.

Wise Decisions- Often, advance planning and clear thinking result in decisions that end up making a substantial difference. For example, it is an accepted fact, in many cases, variety decisions can be quite important. Some forage varieties yield better than others; in some cases, disease-resistance of one variety is much higher than others, forage quality of some varieties or species is superior, etc. Decisions relating to fertilization, weed control, insect control and grazing management or harvesting can likewise make a tremendous difference in results. A producer who gets as much information as possible before making decisions is likely to make better decisions.

Timing- Sometimes two producers can make virtually the same decisions, but get vastly different results because of a difference in timing. In forage crop establishment, timing of planting is often of particularly critical importance. For example, since rainfall is usually frequent in early spring, early to mid-spring plantings of most warm-season forage crops are usually more successful than late-spring plantings. In the autumn, plantings made too early may sprout and die because of drought, while plantings made too late may be killed by cold weather. Only a few weeks or even a few days difference in planting time sometimes makes a big difference in results.

Attention To Detail- Successful forage producers tend to frequently and carefully observe their forage crops as well as pay attention to the effectiveness of various management practices. Obviously, a producer cannot make a wise decision or exercise good timing of a management practice if he does not monitor his forage crops. For example, if an insect problem is not detected until substantial damage has been done, then much of the benefit of an insecticide application has been lost. Timely identification of, and action to deal with, other problems like a nutrient deficiency, a weed problem, etc., fall in the same category.

Conclusion- Almost anyone would agree that making wise decisions, exercising good timing and giving attention to detail are important. However, it’s easy to fail to totally grasp the immense significance of either exercising, or failing to exercise, each of these traits. Good timing and attention to detail can scarcely compensate for a poor decision regarding implementing a particular practice (in other words, doing the wrong thing well doesn’t help much). The value of a good management decision may be negated by poor timing or a lack of attention to detail in implementing a practice. Attention to detail in carrying out a wise management decision may be for naught if the timing is bad. The point is a little difference in decision-making, timing and attention to detail can often make a very big difference in results.

Don Ball is an Extension Forage Crop Agronomist with Auburn University.