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Crimson Clover Seed May Be Scarce

The price of crimson clover seed for standard varieties has nearly doubled this year. Non-standard varieties may be cheaper, but planting a variety that hasn't been tested is asking for failure, says a Texas Agricultural Experiment Station (TAES) forage expert.

"Standard cultivars of crimson clover that we know to be reliable in the U.S. Southern Region include Dixie, Chief, Tibbee, AU Robin and Flame," says Ray Smith, TAES clover breeder. "Any other crimson clovers cultivars or crimson seed offered as VNS (variety not stated) should be investigated fully before purchase."

Crimson clover is commonly over-seeded in warm-season pastures to provide forage for cattle during winter months. Most clover and ryegrass seed used in Texas is produced in western Oregon's Willamette Valley.

Usually, Oregon weather and soils favor higher yields and better quality seed. Last year, however, saturated soils and a hard spring freeze dealt a one-two punch to about half the clover production fields, Smith says.

When the price of any one production item doubles, it is human nature to look for cheaper alternatives. But using seed that hasn't been scientifically tested is most likely going to be an expensive lesson, he says.

"Last spring, in 2007, we know there were problems in northern Florida with producers purchasing crimson clover seed that was imported," he says. "Stands didn't survive. They weren't productive. The producers lost both their investment in seed and field bed preparations and the production year."

With recommended seeding rates for crimson clover in Texas at about 20 lbs./acre, seed costs should be about $36/acre this year, Smith says.

If dealers run out of crimson clovers, one alternative is Apache arrowleaf clover, which Smith says is one of the best substitutes for crimson in any area where crimson is grown.

Farmers used to commonly mix crimson and arrowleaf clover seed to extend the grazing season, but bean yellow mosaic virus ended the practice. However, Apache arrowleaf clover is resistant to the virus, making its use either alone or as mix with crimson seed a viable alternative again, Smith says.

Apache arrowleaf clover seed is currently about $2.15/lb., but a good stand can be achieved with 10 lbs/acre. This brings the seed cost $21.50/acre, cheaper than crimson at the new prices.

Apache arrowleaf clover does require different management, however, Smith says. Crimson clover is ready for livestock grazing as early as mid-February. It will finish producing forage by late April, making it a good match for East Texas bermudagrass pastures.

Apache arrowleaf is earlier in production than old arrowleaf varieties, but won't provide grazing until March 1.

"And we'll have clover grazing through the month of May," Smith says. Any management problems with Apache stem from letting it get too tall, he says. Bermudagrass pasture should be fine if the producer has enough cattle per acre to keep the clover grazed down in May.

Another management issue is soil pH. Apache arrowleaf clover needs a soil pH close to 6.0 to develop a strong stand, Smith said. It is possible to develop a successful stand with a soil pH in the 5.7 to 5.8 range.

"If you put on ultra-fine agricultural lime now, it's possible to make some change in pH by planting time in mid- to late-October," he says.
-- Texas Cooperative Extension release