"The benefits of using clovers in grazing systems are well known, but trying to find a perennial legume or a reseeding annual or legume that functions well within these soils (Coastal Plains) has been a challenge," says Eddie Jolley, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) agronomist in Alabama.
"Producers have to consider several issues associated with overseeding annuals – annual seed costs, a regimen for planting annuals, dealing with possible drought conditions in the fall," Jolley says. "Another issue is finding a clover that will perenniate and work well with grazing systems in Coastal Plains soils."
He and Don Ball, Alabama Cooperative Extension Extension forage grass specialist, recently undertook a study to identify the advantages of different clover varieties in Coastal Plains soils. The study was funded by an NRCS Innovation Grant and administered through the Alabama Cattlemen's Association, which organized clover demonstration projects on eight south Alabama farms.
The eight clovers chosen for the demonstrations included: Advantage ladino white clover; Allied 9601 red clover; Apache arrowleaf clover, Bigbee berseem clover; AU Robin crimson clover; Common ball clover; Denmark subterranean clover; and Durana white clover. Depending on soil types at the different demonstration sites, 3-7 varieties were planted at each farm.
"In particular, crimson clover and ball clover stands were good on all the farms," Ball says. "Arrowleaf clover made excellent late-spring growth, reinforcing its value as a pastureland legume in Alabama."
Meanwhile, true to its reputation for shade tolerance, subterranean clover turned up good performance in a pecan orchard.
Ball and Jolley noted excellent growth of white and especially red clover on several farms due to the high moisture levels that prevailed in summer 2009.
Among all the annual clovers, ball clover was the most dependable reseeder.
While the two agronomists noted good seed production with crimson clover, reseeded stands did not occur on all farms. They suspect that the wet summer weather contributed to the seeds germinating too early on several farms. They also noted good reseeding of subterranean clover in shady areas but poor reseeding of berseem and red clover.
One of the most intriguing findings, according to Ball and Jolley, concerned Durana white clover, a variety selected for its toughness, persistence and reseeding ability.
"It was present in good stands on several farms where it had been planted," Balls says. "In fact, the stands observed in 2010 were actually thicker and more vigorous on several of the farms than they were in the previous spring.” This is encouraging because if a perennial clover can reliably perenniate in at least a few Coastal Plains soils areas, it could be of great benefit to cattle producers."
The two agronomists will continue monitoring these clover demonstrations through 2011.
"What we want to come away with is a series of recommendations for helping producers make the most effective use of the clover they choose to grow, based on their perceived needs and management objectives," Jolley says.