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Clovers and Perennials- Are you planting for now or the future?

What most do not know is the most common perennial clovers planted by food plotters may only yield 1.5-2 tons of forage dry matter per acre per year during year of establishment. The most basic concept that is pretty accurate is the following:

What lasts the longest, is the slowest to establish. What lasts the shortest, establishes the fastest. For example, ladino clovers can last 3-7 years depending on management. They are low yielding year 1 and will yield slightly better year 2 and at times year 3. Red clovers typically last 2-3 years and can yield 3-4 tons year one and as much as 6 tons of forage dry matter/year during year 2. Alfalfa can yield 4-5 tons of forage dry matter/acre the first year and with yields in the 9-ton range years 2 and 3 on well managed lands.

So many people overlook annual clovers. The new varieties of frosty berseem and balansa fixation clover will yield 5-6 tons of forage dry matter/acre the year of establishment and in my main research plot we saw yields one year approaching 8 tons of forage dry matter. Some of these new annuals will also reseed in many parts of the US or at least survive with 50-75% of full stand.

So, we can see yields for your “clover plots” ranging from the industry average of 2 tons of dry matter year 1 and as high at 7.2 tons of forage dry matter which I have seen on 1 of my perennial blends. That would be over 10,000 deer feedings extra. That extra yield does come with management and nutrient demand. Do you know how to manage 2 tons versus 4 tons? How about 6 tons of legumes and clovers? A typical legume blend requires 6 lbs. of P205 per ton grown and removed. They also require around 60 lbs. of K20 per ton of forage dry matter grown and removed from your soil.

So, when you think about planting legumes, my question is, what can you manage? Next question is this going to be a warm year or cool year? Is it going to be a dry year or a wet year? Why does this matter? What deer tell us is during periods of wet, red clover, alsike clover, fixation clover and frosty berseem clover will be initially preferred before common ladinos. During dry periods, the forages that handle dry better will be more preferred during those periods because of growth habits and subsequent “brix” levels. This is why I keep trying to hammer home to people to plant biodiverse blends that have staggered maturities and also different growth habits. We can make our blends more drought tolerant and wet tolerant no matter the blend by understanding ways to manipulate soil, stem and stalk.

So, this is my weekly blog and food for thought. Sure, we can plant “clovers” but what is best fit for your soil and management. In an industry of one size fits all, there can be fore thought. This is where I try to bring my research and life’s work to pages like this to at least get people to pause and think for a moment or two. Be well and happy planting.

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