A drought-tolerant annual legume is receiving attention in parts of Ohio as an alternative forage species to frost seed for pasture renovation.
Ohio State University Extension, along with a small number of livestock producers in Athens and Hocking counties, launched demonstration plots to evaluate the performance of lespedeza, especially in southern Ohio where the legume is most likely to be used. The project is for one year.
"We'll be looking at a lespedeza variety called Legend," says Rory Lewandowski, educator, OSU Extension Athens and Hocking counties. "Trials conducted with this variety in Arkansas and Missouri have shown the legume produces better yields and has a higher rate of performance than other legumes used in frost seeding. So we want to see if the variety will work just as well in this area."
Frost seeding is a method used to renovate pastures for grazing. In frost seeding, seed is broadcast throughout a pasture, in either February or March. The freeze-thaw cycles enable the seed to better establish itself, improving germination and quality.
"A basic requirement for frost seeding success is to make sure that the sod cover has been 'opened up.' That is, that there is not so much growth present that the broadcast seed will not be able to come into contact with bare soil," Lewandowski says.
Livestock producers renovate their pastures for a number of reasons.
"During this time of the year, with intermittent warm temperatures and rain, a pasture can get easily torn up," Lewandowski says. "Renovating the pasture helps to re-establish the sod base.
Pasture renovation also improves the pasture mix. Putting a legume into the system provides nitrogen, reduces fertilizer usage and improves quality."
Legumes, such as red clover, white clover, alsike clover, birdsfoot trefoil and alfalfa, work well for frost seeding. Lespedeza has been getting more attention because of its characteristics, Lewandowski says.
"Most legumes are cool season species," he says. "Lespedeza is a warm-season legume, which means that it can fill the summer slump period that cool season grasses experience."
Additionally, lespedeza is drought tolerant, and grows well in acidic soils and in soils of low fertility, so no additional amendments are generally required.
Frost seeding is a popular method of pasture renovation, especially for producers throughout southern Ohio. Frost seeding reduces the use of seeding equipment, thereby reducing costs, and is ideal in areas with hilly terrain.
Frost seeding is an effective and least invasive method of getting seed out in the field without a lot of equipment in the equation," Lewandowski says. "In a way, it's like a conservation practice. A drawback is that you don't have a large window of opportunity to get the seed down."
Other ways of renovating pastures include no-till seeding and conventional tillage seeding, both of which can be conducted throughout the year.
"Most cattle producers don't like seeing their pastures turned into a trampled, muddy mess, but when this occurs, learning to see the opportunity for pasture improvement through frost seeding may help to make the situation more bearable," Lewandowski says.