Frost seeding an option to weigh

By Gary Sliworsky
Ag rep, Emo

When I planned the timing for this article, I never dreamed so much of the snow would be gone and the nights would be so warm.
However, there still might be some opportunities.
The following is information on frost seeding from Barry Potter, agriculture development advisor, OMAFRA:
Frost seeding is the name given to the process of spreading seed across fields in late winter and early spring. The thawing/freezing action in early spring acts to work the grass seed into the soil.
Moisture from melting snow and spring rains helps the seed germinate.
The new seedlings grow to thicken stands, providing more grazing for livestock.
Back in 2009, at the Agriculture Canada research station in Kapuskasing, several fields were determined to have low or non-existent legume content. The cows grazed existing grasses in the fall, leaving little residue.
Red clover seed was spread on the fields by ATV in April, 2010 while snow was still on the ground. The seeding rate was 10 pounds per acre.
By early June, it was evident that red clover now made up 50 percent of the forage stand or greater in areas where previously there was no legume.
In 2011, red clover was spread in additional fields. This time the rate was cut to five pounds per acre, and the grass was not grazed off in the fall.
Evaluation in the summer demonstrated that the red clover percent increased only marginally (less than 15 percent).
Frost seeding imitates the natural process of seed heads shedding mature seed from plants onto the ground in the fall. While forage seed can be spread at any time, typical frost seeding now occurs in late winter/early spring.
Farmers are afraid that seed spread in the late fall could germinate in a winter thaw, or be washed away in a spring melt. So usually the seed will be spread on the last melting snows of winter or the frozen ground of an early spring day.
The subsequent morning freezing and afternoon thawing works to lower the seed into the soil—ready to germinate in a sustainable environment as the soil temperature warms.
Frost seeding is especially beneficial in areas where the pasture or hay field has “run out” of legumes. Legumes provide extra yield and quality in the field, as well as taking nitrogen from the air, and making it available in the soil for grass roots to use.
Clovers, trefoil, and alfalfa are the legumes most used in frost seeding. The downside of alfalfa is a built-in autotoxicity that allows existing alfalfa plants to kill any new germinating alfalfa seed. If there is existing alfalfa in a field, putting more alfalfa seed into the ground is counter-productive.
In the Kapuskasing trial, the application of 10 pounds per acre provided a dramatic increase in legume content. However, bear in mind that clovers can cause bloat.
Managing pastures with thick clover stands can be a challenge.
An option would be to include five pounds of clover and three pounds of trefoil. Trefoil does not cause bloat, and provides the same nitrogen fixing capability as clover.
However, it can be harder to establish than the clovers.
Frost seeding can work to rejuvenate old stands. While it is not as effective a strategy as plowing and working up the land, it is a much cheaper alternative.
It’s also a great the way to improve fields that are too rough or hilly to be worked by conventional tillage.
• • •
The Business Development for Farm Businesses program, “Growing Forward,” offers cost-share opportunities for established and beginning farmers.
Cost share is available for:
•Farm financial assessment;
•Agriculture skills development;
•Advanced business planning; and
•Business plan implementation
Take part in a free, two-day “Growing Your Farm Profits” workshop on March 28-29 in Rainy River, develop an action plan, and have it reviewed.
Meet other requirements as outlined in the program guide.
The program is locally delivered by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association.
For more information, contact Richard Trivers at 274-2930 or via e-mail at

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