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UF Researchers: New Forage Blend Will Improve Wildlife Habitats

Chuck Woods (352) 392-1773 x 281

Ann Blount, (850) 482-9849
Ken Quesenberry, (352) 392-1811, ext. 213
Steve Olson, (850) 875-7144
John Carpenter, 1-800-286-6100, ext. 289

QUINCY, Fla.—For nature lovers and hunters who invest in forages to improve wildlife habitats, especially during winter months, University of Florida researchers say it’s a case of buyer beware.

“Not every forage crop grows well in every climate,” said Ann Blount, an assistant professor of agronomy with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “Unfortunately, some manufacturers of these products overlook this fact and sell the same product in every market. Some forages will not tolerate local growing conditions in the southern Coastal Plain.”

With deer season looming throughout the Southeast, Blount and Steve Olson, a professor of horticultural sciences, and other UF faculty are monitoring about 20 commercial cool-season forage blends planted in locations around Florida and Georgia to evaluate their yield, quality and cost per acre. Hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts use the blends to grow food for animals during winter months.

For comparison, they have also planted mixtures of forage grasses and legumes developed by UF, Auburn University, the University of Georgia and Louisiana State University. Because the varieties were developed specifically for southern Coastal Plain growing conditions, they perform better here, Blount said.

Blount, along with UF agronomy professors Ken Quesenberry, Ron Barnett and Gordon Prine, have recommended recipes for wildlife that can be assembled with adapted varieties available at many feed stores. The blends should be suitable for the light, sandy soils throughout the Southeast.

“There isn’t much hard data on these subjects, and we’d like to generate some because there’s plenty of public interest,” Quesenberry said. “Our county extension agents get inquiries all the time from hunters who want to know which forages perform best in Florida. We’ve also been contacted by the private sector for advice on recommending suitable cultivars.”

In future trials, UF researchers will seek data on the nutritional value and “appetite appeal” of the blends, he said.

Pennington Seed, the world’s largest producer of wildlife forages that markets blends developed for soil and climate conditions in different states, has added southern states to their list, said John Carpenter, national sales manager of forage and wildlife products in Madison, Ga. “We depend on return business, so we want to make sure our products really meet customer needs,” he said.

This fall, the firm is working with the UF forage breeders to market “Supreme Southeastern Mixture,” a blend of recommended cultivars for the lower South. The blend should be available throughout the state. Contact Pennington Seed at 1-800-285-SEED for a dealer near you.

“The components of the blend have been very successful under the harsh southern climate and are well-adapted to the region,” Carpenter said. “There is a good track record on each of these components from regional variety testing programs and published university variety trials. The blends of these cultivars have also been evaluated under different management practices and soil conditions.”

While the commercial mixture is new to the market, hunters have been blending their own mixtures based on university recommendations. In cooperation with UF researchers, employees of Neal Land and Timber near Blountstown, Fla., are using the four-way blend on a 20,000-acre tract the company maintains, said Emory Godwin, wildlife management officer.

“We’ve tried other forages before, but this one has gotten the most response from wildlife,” Godwin said. “We’ll keep using it.”

Blount said the commercialization of the blend takes the work out of locating the recommended varieties, and includes pre-inoculated clover seed. Most clover seed is not inoculated, which is often a drawback for those who want to make the mix from scratch. Also, seed type, composition and germination are known factors in the blend, she said.

“Ideally, forages should be palatable to wildlife but not irresistible,” said Donald Lee Francis, an area wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Francis is based at Joe Budd Wildlife Management Area, a 10,500-acre state-managed tract in Gadsden County that includes 80 acres of cool-season forage and also hosts UF forage trials.

“You don’t want to plant something that’s so delicious it’s like putting out a bowl of ice cream,” Francis said. “If that happens, the deer will completely obliterate it right away. You want forage that will supplement their natural diet when they need it.”

Olson said UF blends are used to establish both “nutritional plots” that support long-term herd health and “attractant plots” meant to bring animals to specific areas.

“In the last few years, hunters have become more interested in ways to improve wildlife habitat, and establishing nutrition plots is one way to do it,” Olson said. “Animals get most of the benefits from these cool-season forages after hunting season ends, so it represents an investment.”

UF researchers also are studying warm-season forages, which are planted in spring or early summer to produce high-quality forage during the summer and benefit hunters when deer seasons open in the fall.

The wildlife forage research is part of the North Florida Forage Program, a cooperative effort between UF and the surrounding states that work in forage breeding to develop better cattle forages.