Weed-free hay is a priority for most producers, but when it comes to making hay for the premium horse market, a clean crop is essential.
"Our customers want clean hay that's 100 percent bermudagrass," said Joe Whitrock, an Okarche, Okla., grower. "Loyal customers are the lifeblood of my business. If I sell them hay with foreign matter, they won’t come back."
The economic benefit of producing weed-free hay is clear. On his 500 acres of bermudagrass, Whitrock said effective foxtail control doubles his hay revenue.
"It's the difference between selling hay for $45 per ton versus $90 per ton for clean hay. I get a real return from investing in weed control."
Encouraging bermudagrass growth while slowing down weeds can be a balancing act. Whitrock combined a nitrogen application with a herbicide to stop foxtail issues.
Real johnsongrass control
Eliminating johnsongrass on his bermudagrass acres has been an ongoing challenge for Steve Schovanec, a hay production manager near Hunter, Okla. "I want all my fields to be clean so I can sell my hay to anyone, anywhere," he said.
"If there is johnsongrass in it, it's cow hay, and the market for that is $35 to $45 per bale," he added. "If it's clean hay, it sells for $60 a bale. That's an increase of at least $60 more per acre from each cutting. Multiply that by three cuttings per season and you're talking about at least $180 more per acre for clean hay."
Higher quality hay also allows Schovanec to produce square bales for sale in small quantities to horse owners. His reputation for producing clean hay means horse owners are lining up to buy hay directly from the source, sometimes following the baler around the field and loading Schovanec's premium hay bales into their SUVs.
The ability to increase revenue so substantially makes intensive management pay, including fertilizer applications after each cutting and strategic herbicide treatments, Schovanec reported.
Getting ahead of sandbur
Field sandbur is one of the most troublesome pasture weeds in Texas and Oklahoma. "Sandbur is very difficult to control, especially in a grass crop," said Roger Gribble, Oklahoma State University Extension Service area agronomist. "It's a summer annual that reproduces from seed every year, and the sticky seeds get spread by livestock or on machinery, so sandbur is a weed that can easily get away from you."
Growers have had few options for coping with problem sandbur populations. "It's always hard to take a grass weed out of a grass crop, but new DuPont Pastora was able to do that without hurting the bermudagrass," Gribble said in pointing out university trial results.
Fewer weeds, more hay
Cleaner fields also produce more hay. Eliminating weeds reduces competition for moisture and nutrients, said Larry Perkins, manager of crop protection products for Abilene Ag, Abilene, Texas. "Good weed control is another way to boost yields."
He says his own experience agrees with Texas A&M University research conducted in Victoria County, Texas, which shows that for every pound of weeds controlled, an additional three to seven pounds of bermudagrass can be produced per acre.*
In the examples of foxtail, johnsonsongrass and sandbur problems, Du Pont Pastora herbicide showed success. Pastora herbicide received federal registration in early 2010 for control of grass and broadleaf weeds in bermudagrass. The herbicide is not registered for sale or use in all states. Ask your local ag retailer for product details and state availability.
*Charles Stichler and David Bade, Texas A&M University, "Forage Bermudagrass: Selection, Establishment and Management," accessed here.