Undeterred by the uncertainty of 2020, the Kansas Forage and Grassland Council, along with Kansas State University, hosted this year’s Winter Forage Conference virtually. Keynote speakers covered an array of topics from pasture management to a yearlong breakdown of regional hay markets.

Pasture management and weed control

Walt Fick, a K-State range management specialist, kicked off the conference with his presentation on brush and weed management within pastures.

Brush invasion has become an increasing issue for producers in eastern Kansas, Fick said. A variety of factors, including a reduction in fires, climate fluctuations and increased seed transport, may have caused the increased spread.

“You want to treat those woody species when they first show up,” Fick said. “Don’t let it become a forest. The longer you wait to treat an issue that could become a problem, you just increase the cost of treatment over time.”

Fick encourages producers to use proper grazing management, prescribed burnings and spot treating with herbicides to help prevent extensive tree and brush problems.

Keith Harmoney, a range specialist from K-State, continued the conversation on pasture management with information on identifying and treating weeds in pastures.

Understanding weed diversity and density is key to determining a treatment plan. For example, Honey Locusts sprout when stressed leading to difficulties controlling the tree within grazed pastures and recommended treatments vary depending on the size of the trees and the density of the stands.

Yucca can form dense colonies with deep root systems that can negatively impact soil moisture and limit grass production within pastures, Harmoney said. Because of this, a prescribed burning regimen and occasional winter grazing can be used to reduce the cover of Yucca plants but will not kill off the plants.

“Another way we can control some of these is through what I call prescribed grazing or targeted grazing,” Harmoney said. “What we’re trying to do is get the animal to consume as much of the plant as possible to reduce its leaf area, reduce its vigor and reduce its seed production abilities.”

Understanding the life cycle of undesirable plants can make these treatments more effective.

“In order to decrease weed species or undesirable species in your pasture with targeted grazing or prescribed grazing, you need to know your friends well but you need to know your enemies even better.” Harmoney said. “We have to know when and how our weed species are going to be best targeted over time.”

Hay Market Reports

Kim Nettleton, a Kansas Department of Agriculture hay market reporter, presented an overview of the Kansas hay markets in 2020. “As we all know we’ve had a very interesting year,” Nettleton said. “There’s been a number of factors that have affected the hay market and left us with slightly higher prices than 2019.”

Hay producers across Kansas were affected by a variety of factors this year. Weather, from drought conditions to freeze damage, and an increase in insects were just a few of the challenges producers faced, Nettleton said.

“COVID-19 of course has touched, and continues to touch, the hay market on several fronts,” Nettleton said. “Not only were acres available for harvest down but the yields were down across all cuttings. Of course, this is going to result in less hay available and thus an increase in price.”

Nettleton went on to explain there’s no way to know what can be expected of the market in 2021, but the hope should be that Kansas sees more rainfall and less COVID-19.

Insects in Alfalfa

Don Miller of Alforex Seeds gave a presentation on identifying and managing insects in alfalfa fields.

Miller said the major insects to be aware of are Alfalfa Weevils, Potato Leafhoppers, Caterpillars, worms and Clover Root Curculios. Understanding what insects you are dealing with is crucial to knowing your when and how to treat for pests, particularly when dealing with aphids.

“It’s really important to know which aphids you have out in your Alfalfa field,” Miller said. “We can tolerate a lot of Pea Aphids, but these other aphids, the Blue Aphid, the Spotted Aphid and the Cow Pea Aphid, all inject a toxin.”

It’s also important producers are able to identify beneficial insects such as lady bugs and lacewings. High counts of these beneficial insects may lead producers to consider delaying treatment for pests. Miller said producers should also consider how close to harvest they are before treating for pests.

“As you get close to cutting, if you are within one or two weeks, you really have to make the decision of whether it’s advisable to just cut early and use harvest as a method of controlling the insects versus applying an insecticide,” Miller said.

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