Information Determines Results With Dr. Don Ball

Foraging Ahead With Dr. Don Ball: Information Determines Results

During a recent review of forage crop planting recommendations, it occurred to me that such guidelines have a lot in common with driving directions. If we decide to take a trip to a place we have never (or rarely) been before and don’t have a map or GPS unit, we will need some help. For example, we may not know the numbers or names of the roads we need to take. We almost certainly won’t know which lanes we will need to be in to allow us to make turns required. We may not even know how far we will need to travel to reach our desired destination.

Proper and dependable establishment of a good forage stand likewise requires valid information followed by adherence to the recommendations. This includes planting at the correct time, using an appropriate seeding rate, getting good distribution of seed, and planting the seed at the correct depth. Such details have a way of getting “fuzzy” in our minds over time, even if we have been exposed to them many times before.

Preparations made prior to the planting process are important as well. Planting equipment needs to be in good working condition. Soil pH and soil fertility requirements for the crop(s) to be planted need to be determined and met. Good quality seed of a species and variety that will be adapted and productive on the site where the forage stand needs to be obtained. At planting time the field surface needs to be in a condition suitable for the planting equipment to be used.

Planting technique (exactly how seeds are placed in, or on, the soil) is somewhat analogous to the routes we might take in order to travel somewhere. To get to a particular location, we may have the option of taking a scenic route, the quickest but less scenic route, or perhaps a route that allows a stop at a nice restaurant or other point(s) of interest along the way. Regardless, the primary objective is still likely to be to get to the desired destination.

Just as any of several routes may take us to a particular geographical destination, there may be several techniques that can be used to achieve the objective of properly planting a forage stand. An approach might be used that involves a good deal of tillage, a small amount of tillage, or a no-till drill.  It really doesn’t matter what planting technique is used as long as the basic requirements for seed placement, seed-soil contact, germination, and establishment are met, making it likely that the primary objective (getting a good forage stand) will be achieved.

Countless millions of people take car trips every year. Likewise, many millions of acres of forage crops are planted. For each trip made and for each field planted, any information needed should be obtained from a reliable source.  Advance preparations that may be beneficial need to be considered and accomplished. Attention to detail with regard to use of the information obtained helps ensure things work out as planned

Widespread availability of GPS has made it easy for most people to get driving directions; otherwise one can use a map or get advice from a knowledgeable person. Similarly, recommendations regarding establishing forage crops are readily available from computer searches (even via smart phones). University forage crop web sites are a particularly reliable source of information. Extension agents and other agricultural professionals can also be extremely helpful. With either travel or establishing a forage stand, guessing is risky.


Foraging Ahead is a column presented by Ragan & Massey and written by Dr. Don Ball, Professor Emeritus at Auburn University. Dr. Ball is one of the authors of the popular book “Southern Forages,” available here.