An alternative planting strategy for establishing clover in pastures

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2006: $14,992.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
John Jennings
University of Arkansas

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing - continuous, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: no-till
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems


    Strip-seeding white clover (Trifolium repens L.) in tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) pastures at 8 lbs/acre (4X) on only 25% of the field improved clover stands during the first growing season in the planted area compared to solid-seeding clover at 2 lbs/acre (1X) over 100% of the field. Clover volunteered into unplanted areas between the strips during the second year thus increasing the total acreage of clover. The stand percentage also remained higher for the 4X rate than the 1X rate through the second growing season. Strip-planting provides good clover establishment and requires less calibration precision, time, and fuel than conventional solid-seeding.


    Nitrogen fertilizer costs have sharply increased making it difficult for producers to sustain adequate pasture productivity. Establishing clover in cool-season grass pastures helps reduce toxic endophyte infected fescue effects on livestock and helps reduce the need for expensive N fertilizer. Clover seed is typically broadcast or no-till planted in dormant grass sod across the entire pasture. In theory, planting clover over 100% of the pasture should result in an even distribution of clover over the field, but in practice, uniform stands of clover are seldom achieved. When clover is planted into an existing grass pasture, the resulting clover stand is considered good at 25% of the total pasture sward and is often distributed in patches.

    When planting white clover at 1-3 lbs/acre, calibrating broadcast seeders is difficult and the recommended settings of no-till drills are often inaccurate. Because it is difficult to calibrate planters for low seeding rates and because clover planted at low rates often becomes established in only 25% of the pasture, it may be more cost-effective to plant clover at a higher seeding rate only in the areas of the field best suited for clover and let both vegetative growth and dispersal of seed by grazing animals spread clover into other areas of the pasture. In theory, 100% of the recommended clover seed for a field could be planted on only 25% of the area (4X rate), thus increasing the likelihood of establishing the same amount of clover as for planting the entire field. This would reduce time and calibration requirements while reducing labor and planting costs.

    Additional experiments:
    Two additional experiments were conducted within this On-Farm research effort to improve understanding of interseeding clover into fescue sod. These experiments were 1) herbicide suppression (metsulfuron or glyphosate) of tall fescue on establishment of white clover and 2) comparison of N fertilizer vs. clover for fall forage production.

    1) Herbicide suppression of tall fescue on white clover establishment: Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) is avigorous forage that forms a dense sod which makes establishment of small-seeded legumes difficult without sod suppression or sod disturbance. Metsulfuron herbicide is often used for weed control in bermudagrass pastures and is known to suppress tall fescue. It has less effect on established clover than fescue, but the effect on germinating clover is not well known. Glyphosate herbicide has been used to suppress fescue sod for renovating toxic fescue pastures, but the effect of low rates for sod suppression is not well documented. If very low herbicide rates can be used to suppress, but not reduce, fescue sod then establishment of white clover (Trifolium repens L.) may be enhanced while retaining the grass vegetative sod cover.

    2) Yield response of tall fescue/white clover mixtures with and without N fertilizer when managed for stockpiled winter pasture: Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) is often stockpiled for fall and winter grazing as an effective practice for reducing winter feeding costs. In four years of Extension demonstrations in Arkansas, producers saved an average of $20 per animal unit by grazing stockpiled fescue compared to the cost of hay. For stockpiling fescue, a N fertilizer rate of 50-60 lbs/acre is recommended during early September. In 2008, N fertilizer cost hit record high prices making producers less likely to fertilize pastures. Addition of clover to fescue pastures reduces the need for N fertilizer because well-established clover stands can fix substantial amounts of N. However, this fixed N must be recycled (primarily by grazing) to be available for use by the companion grass. With increased interest in adding clover to fescue pastures, a common question is “Will N fixed from clover in a fescue/clover pasture be adequate to promote a desirable yield of stockpiled pasture in fall without N fertilizer?”

    Project objectives:

    The objective of the overall study was: to compare two strategies for establishing white clover into tall fescue grass sod which are planting white clover at a rate of 2 lbs/acre (1X) over the entire pasture vs. planting clover is strips to equal 25% of the pasture at a rate of 8 lbs/acre.

    Additional Experimental Objectives:
    1)To determine if metsulfuron or glyphosate herbicides applied at low rates to fescue sod in late winter would improve establishment of white clover.
    2)To determine the forage yield response of tall fescue/white clover mixtures managed for stockpiled fall/winter pasture with and without N fertilization.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.