ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

Can I salvage my hay this spring?

Posted February 10, 2005

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Send it to Jeff at:

Dear Jeff,

I planted 5 acres of hay (for goats) last spring on an unused pasture. I first used Roundup, waited two weeks, then ‘plowed it under’ and then seeded. It all started to grow fine until the weeds came. It became unusable due to the thistle and other problem weeds grown throughout. Any suggestions on how to proceed this spring?

Thanks for all of your help,

Dear Phil,

I’m sorry to hear of your problems. Spring is a tough time to get hay crops established for the very reasons you have experienced. Most of the crops we use for forages are much slower to germinate and establish themselves than the weeds that compete with them. I normally establish my hay very early in spring (Febuary or March) by frost seeding into wheat or with a nurse crop of oats. Even then there may be some competition with weeds, but the shade of the small grain and the harvest activity seem to benefit the young hay.

Many growers prefer to get their hay crop started in the fall (late August or September) to avoid the weed pressure. This is especially true if you use herbicides, which we here at The Rodale Institute do not use since we are certified organic. By planting at this time of year, you take advantage of reduced weed pressure along with the cooler weather (which can frost out the young weeds but not hurt the hay). Of course, much of this depends on the area of the country where you live and the type of hay you are producing. It's difficult to tell with the little information I have, but you may want to take a close look in spring to see how well the establishment really is compared to the weeds. Keep in mind that hay crops are designed to be mowed, and weeds generally don't tolerate that activity as well. Based on the cost of good-quality hay seed, it may be worth your time to take another look. If it truly is unsalvageable, you may need to start over and simply try again. If you can spray Roundup on what's there, you may be able to no-till drill the new hay into the stand of dead plant material. If you need to plow, then I would suggest a nurse crop, such as oats, be planted with the hay.

Hope this helps. Best of luck,

Dear Jeff,

Thank you. I’ll give the spring seeding a try. I did notice that when I cut in the fall, the weeds did die (per your point), but the thistle still made the hay unusable. Perhaps an earlier mowing as well.

Thanks again,

Have some questions to Ask Jeff? E-mail him directly at