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

What methods and equipment do you use to spread hay seed?

Posted July 2, 2004

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 am about to purchase a 76-acre lot and I am hoping to grow hay. Every step in the haying process I understand, but what methods do you use to spread so much seed around? Also, what equipment do I need to complete the seeding task? If you could give me some tips and hints that would be great.

P.S.—I live in the Northwest.

Alex Schumer

Dear Alex,

It sounds like you’re off and running. Normally, we plant hay in a rotation with other crops such as grain. In this situation, we plant the hay seed into a nurse crop of winter wheat or spring oats. In an organic situation, this nurse crop helps eliminate weed pressure on the slowly germinating hay.

You can direct seed the hay seed in the spring, however managing the weeds that germinate and grow faster than the hay will be challenging. Hay direct seeded without a nurse crop usually does better if planted in mid-August, since most of the weeds that germinate then will be annuals that, at least for us in the Northeast, die with the first hard frost while the hay grows on.

In order to sow the seed, you could use a grain drill. This is the same type of planter you would use to plant small grains like wheat, oats, rye, or barley, only with a “grass box” attachment that will handle the very small seeds that make up most hay crops. Using a grain drill with a set of packer wheels in the rear will help with establishment.

You can also broadcast the seed with any of the many broadcast seeders available; however you should then run over the seeded area with a packer harrow or roller to get the seed in good contact with the soil. On our farm, we broadcast the hay seed into winter wheat in late winter or early spring and let the freezing and thawing action of the soil pull the seed into the ground.

Hope this helps. If you need more information, let me know. And be sure to write back and let me know what you eventually do and how it turns out.

P.S.—I suggest you contact your local county extension agent or check in a copy of your state’s agronomy guide to see what they recommend for conventional growers. The timing and dates for planting will be the same for organic or conventional. This will at least be a starting point for you to compare to my recommendations.



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