Drought offers opportunity for growing legume crops

One of the ironies of this past year's severe drought is that, while it has wreaked havoc with agriculture in a variety of ways, it also has created an opportunity for livestock producers.

“There's an old saying, ‘when life deals you lemons, use them to make lemonade,’” says Don Ball, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System agronomist. “While it's certainly a trite saying, it holds true for some livestock producers.”

As Ball sees it, many of the owners of fescue and orchardgrass pastures that have been thinned out by prolonged drought now have an opportunity to introduce legumes to these pastures — a factor that may result in more productive pastures in the future.

White or red clover is the best choice for fescue and orchardgrass pastures, says Ball.

Planting is best accomplished with no-till drilling, especially in the case of red clover. White clover should be planted at two or three pounds per acre, red clover from between eight and 10 pounds per acre.

Planting depths for both clovers should not exceed one-quarter inch. The optimal planting time in late winter is March. Producers who don't have a no-till drill should broadcast the seed. This works especially well with white clover, notes Ball.

Annual lespedeza is best suited to upland areas where clover is not likely to perform well or to survive. It should be broadcast at a rate of between 25 and 30 pounds per acre or shallowly drilled at a rate of between 15 and 20 pounds per acre in early March.

For more information about incorporating legumes into pastures, contact your local Extension office.

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