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Here are the best seeding options to replenish annual lespedeza in livestock pastures.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

November 5, 2020

3 Min Read
A brown and white speckled calf grazing in a pasture
LUSH SUMMER: Farmers who want forage in the late summer for calves can seed annual lespedeza when the ground freezes to avoid the grazing gap. Mindy Ward

Annual lespedeza is a good forage for grazing during the summer months. Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist, says winter is the time to seed light stands.

Livestock can graze lespedeza in pastures in Missouri from June through September, he says. But if these fields were overgrazed in the fall, they need to be replenished.

Selecting lespedeza seed

There are two main types of lespedeza grown in Missouri — Korean and Kobe.

Roberts says that Korean lespedeza was introduced into the U.S. from Korea in 1919 and into Missouri in 1921. At that time, he says, the Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station received a spoonful of seed from USDA.

“After five years of intensive study at MU, the experiment station sent 5-pound packages of seed to 30 farmers for on-the-farm tests,” Roberts notes. “All the farmers sent back encouraging reports. Acceptance of the crop was outstanding, and planted acreage in Missouri peaked at about 6 million acres in the early 1950s.”

When five different seed dealers in Missouri were asked what lespedeza seed was available, they all responded, “Korean.” Roberts says not so fast.

“The reason that's in quotes, instead of just formatted like a typical variety name, is because the seed is probably not Korean,” he says. “It says on the bag Korean lespedeza VNS, which means variety not stated. It is probably just a mix of Korean and Kobe.”

Kobe was introduced from Japan in 1919. Kobe grows much larger than common lespedeza, is more erect and produces more hay or pasture, Roberts says.

Prices of seed differ considerably between dealers. Roberts found seed selling from as low as $1.12 per pound, up to $2.20.

Farmers also should ask if the seed is dehulled. “Dehulling will remove only about 10% of the weight,” Roberts says. “It's a very light chaff seed coat. So, it can affect the seeding rate.”

Planting scenarios for lespedeza

If farmers are going to plant annual lespedeza, the recommended rate is 20 pounds of “pure live seed per acre.” “That also is in quotes because nobody does it,” Roberts says. “I wouldn't do it.”

The best way to get a good stand of annual lespedeza is to plant about 6 or 7 pounds, and make sure that it reseeds that first year, he explains. Instead of planting 20 pounds, and if careful with reseeding, farmers could easily see anywhere from 30 to 50 pounds of pure live seed drop just from that first stand. “So, we'll get all the lespedeza we want just by being patient,” Roberts adds.

Lespedeza seed can be broadcast, Roberts says, typically in late January when the ground is frozen. The seed will work its way down into the soil through the natural freezing and thawing process.

“We're not so worried about lespedeza breaking dormancy when we have a warm spell in the winter, breaking dormancy and then dying because of a late freeze,” he explains. “We don't worry about that. It usually germinates in late April, or early May.”

However, it is important to make sure the seed has contact with the soil. “We've seen cases where people broadcast in the winter frost seeding, and they don't have a stand and then come back and look at the field and there's so much thatch that the seed never touched the soil," Roberts says. He says if farmers are grazing the field, it also can be hoofed in as well.

Farmers also can drill or broadcast the seed and harrow it in the spring — late March or early April.

Roberts says the most common frost seeding recommendation for pastures in Missouri is 5 or 6 pounds of red clover, a half-pound to a pound of white clover, and 6 to 7 pounds of annual lespedeza.

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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