What should I plant?
So many people on social media ask that simple question and as many people respond with a simple answer, buy from xyz company. An equal amount of people respond with “plant mix abc. Here is what drives me wild as a consultant. Simple answers usually result in 50-50 odds of success. I never want my clients to experience anything less than as close to perfect success as possible.
Here is an example. Corn farmers have multiple choices of varieties. When a seed salesman or agronomist sits down with the farmer they discuss where the corn will be planted. They will discuss the soil type and perhaps even look at a soil sample. They weigh out when they are going to plant the corn and what location they will plant it. Lastly, they will try to match up a hybrid that will meet the yield goal for that farmers particular situation. If Farmer Brown has sandy soil with a yield potential of 150 bushel corn, there are hybrids that might yield 200-250 bushel in ideal situations but they might only yield 125 in his own particular situation. It would be a poor decision to plant a hybrid that won the local F.I.R.S.T Plot contest. That hybrid might need what your soil and management doesn’t allow.
Let’s explore this scenario. Joe Smith wants to plant a perennial clover plot. He is a first time food plotter and he hasn’t taken a soil test. He asks the public what should be plant for clovers. Ten different people online give generic answers like, buy from Huge Rack Seeds. Others might say “plant ladino clover.” Even more might say to plant “clover magic blend.” When I see the responses and there is no one asking this newbie to food plotting any questions to help give him an honest and less risky answer, it makes me sad for the person who is looking for help.
Everyone loves ladino clover. So many people use the words Durano Clover, Kopu 2 clover, Jumbo Clover or other specific varieties. Yes, these are all good options but in my opinion based on the managed intensive grazing philosophy, this is a bad decision to plant 1 species. Why do grazers plant a minimum or 3 species and in many cases 5 or more in their pastures? Because MOTHER NATURE seems to always come into play. Reason #2, in many areas of the US, we have seasons. In the spring we see rapid growth in some areas. When it gets to the heat of the summer, we see growth slow way down or even cease in some areas. When fall comes around, we see decent growth again. Lastly when it gets cold, many species go dormant when temps get below 26 degrees.
I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want 365 degree nutrition on their property. I couldn’t help but smile last Thursday when I did a seminar and another industry expert went on and spoke after me and he said, “that guy was spot on.” One of the next things out of his mouth was, “the industry doesn’t like alfalfa and I don’t care.” That was music to my ears and yet most of my clients also know the importance of having 5 species of perennials on their land.
If you live in the central sands of Wisconsin, is it a great answer to say, “plant Durano clover.” If you live in Hattiesburg Mississippi and have wet, swampy land, is the answer best to say, “plant big buck clover blend”, if that blend contains ladino clover, alfalfa and chicory? At a seminar at the Wisconsin Deer and Turkey Expo last weekend I said, there are some people I really don’t want to work with me. If someone doesn’t take a soil sample and they don’t fertilize correct and they only want a bag of seed, the odds that they will have failure is around 50% and nothing good happens with that for the food plotter nor me.
Here is the questions I ask everyone before recommending what to plant.
Where do you live? I want to know how cold it gets and how long their growing season is.
Have you taken a soil sample? I want to know what their soil ph is, their soil organic matter levels are and what their current soil nutrient levels are. If the food plotter is on sand, with low organic matter, they will need more drought tolerant forages and those who perhaps might not require as high of plane of nutients. If the food plotter has swamp bottom, we want to incorporate alsike clover, berseem clover and other clovers that can handle wet.
What was planted on this ground before? If it’s new ground that hasn’t been tiled before or in many years, there will be some challenges like weeds and soil compaction. We might want to have the food plotter plant a spring cover crop or soil builder and then have them fall seed their perennials. I also want to see them planting a fast growing nurse crop or use some fast growing annual clovers as nurse crops along with the slower growing perennial clovers in this case to get get ahead of the weeds. Bare ground or exposed ground is never a good thing.
How many deer does your property hold? The higher your deer density, the more forage will be needed. Also some species tolerate more intensive grazing pressures than others. Again, the generic plant ladino clover, would be a bad choice in high deer density areas.
So, I challenge each of you to ask questions of these people before giving generic answers. If you are the food plotter asking for opinions, please include more detailed information about YOUR SITUATION as your situation is different than the neighbor across the fence or the guy 200 miles down the road. Another thing to consider is to ask the seed company to provide a tag. When was that seed tested? What is the germination count on that seed? How much weed seed is in that bag of seed? Is there coatings or are you buying pure live seed?
Ask yourself, are you a gambler or do you want the highest chance of success that you can have when you buy that bag of seed. Most companies in the industry are selling the same genetics in their own pretty bag but what do you need for YOUR situation?