A publication of the University of the Virgin Islands Agricultural Experiment Station January, 2002
Establishment of a high-quality,
uniform stand of pasture in a short
period of time is important to the
success of a livestock operation.
Failure to obtain a good stand means
not only the loss of investment but
also of the use of the land for a year
or even longer.
If initially a sparse stand devel-
ops, most grasses have the ability to
fill in the bare spots and eventually
cover the ground, especially if the
new planting is on virgin land.
However, this still means a loss of
time and use, and usually more
problems with weeds. If a sparse
stand of the new grass develops
when planted on an old pasture
contaminated with an aggressive
weedy grass, such as hurricane grass
(Boithrocloa pertusa), the ability of
the new improved grass to provide
complete ground cover decreases.
The primary purpose of this
factsheet is to describe some of the
planting methods used in the
Caribbean. However, several re-
quirements must be met in order to
successfully establish a pasture.
These will be discussed only briefly.
CHOOSING AN ADAPTED
Many different grasses, le-
gumes, and combinations are
used for pastures in the Carib-
bean. The producer must choose
Panicum maximum Jacq. cv. Mombasa is adapted to mildly alkaline* soils.
those adapted to the soil and
climatic conditions at his/her
location. Choosing the wrong
pasture plants for a particular
site can be very costly. A
producer usually selects a base
perennial pasture grass first, and
then adds legumes (to fix nitro-
gen) to improve pasture quality.
A producer may want to
develop an improved pasture on
native, or undeveloped land, or he/
she may have an old pasture that
needs to be renovated by planting a
new improved grass. Several types
of machines and methods are
available to clear and prepare
undeveloped land for planting of
pastures. These can range from
very large and expensive tree-
clearing equipment (e.g., bulldoz-
ers) to ploughing with tractors and
disk harrows used for final seed-
If the land is to be used only for
grazing, some stumps and roots
Factsheet: Pasture Establishment In the U.S. Virgin Islands
can be left in place. However, this
makes cultural practices, such as
fertilizing and spraying, difficult.
If the producer plans to harvest hay
or silage, or plant the land in a row
crop. then all stumps and roots
must be removed.
To establish a new pasture
grass on a degraded pasture land, it
should be plowed and disked. A
row, cash crop can be grown for
one or more seasons. This will help
to completely eliminate the old
grass and other weedy grasses that
may be present. A cover crop (i.e.,
lab-lab or mucuna) can also be
used. In some situations, complete
kill of the old grass with a
herbicide such as Roundup
(glyphosate) may be required. If an
annual crop or herbicide is not
used, the land should be repeatedly
disked during the dry season.
Final seedbed preparation is
very critical, especially when
planting small seeded grasses and
legumes. The seedbed should be
level, smooth, firm, and free of
trash and weeds. One final disking
just ahead of planting may be
needed to eliminate any recently
In the Virgin Islands, most of
the soils are moderately alkaline,
and do not require liming. Fertili-
zation practices can vary according
to soil type. On the heavy clay-
based soils, establishment fertil-
izer is usually applied just prior to
planting or applied in split applica-
tions. A complete fertilizer 12-5-
12 is recommended for pasture
establishment in the Virgin Is-
lands, at a rate of 50 Ib/acre.
Soil moisture is usually the
most critical factor in determining
Fertilizing shredded Mombasa pasture.
when to plant and whether estab-
lishment will be successful. Al-
ways plant in a moist seedbed.
Also plant at the time of year when
good soil moisture can be expected
to continue for several weeks (10
to 12 wks). In the Virgin Islands,
grasses and legumes should be
planted at the beginning of and
during the rainy season (Septem-
ber to December).
Use good-quality seed (50-
80% germination). The seed should
also have enough energy for the
seedling to reach the soil surface
and grow rapidly. When vegetative
planting material is used, it should
have been well fertilized and
should be mature when harvested
Throughout the years, several
methods and types of machines
have been developed to plant the
seed of different forage crops.
These range from hand-broadcast
equipment to the use of sophisti-
cated precision planters. Grass
seed is often mixed with fertilizer
and broadcast on to the soil surface
by a fertilizer-spreader. This re-
duces the number of trips over the
field but may risk loss of fertilizer
to leaching rains or allow fast-
growing weeds to use the fertilizer
before the slower growing forage
crop. After broadcasting the seed.
the soil is harrowed very lightly to
appropriately cover the seed I cm
(1/4 inch). Then a cultipacker or
roller is used to pack and firm soil
around the seed. In some situa-
tions, only cultipacking is needed
to obtain sufficient coverage.
The seeds of some grasses
(e.g., rhodegrass and guineagrass)
are very small and should only be
pressed into the soil surface. Any
disking will likely cover the seed
too deep. Also, Callide rhodesgrass
seed is very light and fluffy. It has
a tendency to bridge in the seed
hopper and stop flowing through.
To prevent this, it is often mixed
University of the Virgin Islands Agricultural Experiment Station
Weaned goats on a well-established Mombasa pasture.
with fertilizer. It has also been
successfully planted with broad-
cast seeders that have a special
agitator or auger that keeps the
Many brands of broadcast seed-
ers are available. Most of these
spread the seed by means of a
rotating spinner or fan. One type of
broadcast seeder uses an oscillating
arm (slinger). Some are powered by
a hand crank and others by a small
electric motor or by a tractor's power
take off (PTO).
Several types and brands of
precision planters are available for
planting forage crops. The conven-
tional grain drill with a seedbox
attachment can be used for planting
small-seeded grasses and legumes.
For this type of planting, the grass
drill has been modified by placing
rolling coulters in front of each
planting unit. This machine is often
called a pasture drill or a sod drill.
and it is used in some areas to
oyerseed legumes into established
A cultipacker-type seeder,
used on clean-tilled seedbeds, is
popular, especially for planting
expensive seed on a small
acreage. This planter consists of
two corrugated rollers pulled in
tandem with a seedbox mounted
between the rollers. The first
roller makes shallow furrows;
the seed drop into the furrows
and they are covered by the
second roller. This planter should
only be used on land that is
completely free of tree roots,
rocks or other obstructions.
All of the precision planters
can be calibrated to plant a
definite amount of seed per unit
of land area. A precise seeding
depth can be obtained with these
planters in contrast to broadcast-
ing. Because of the precise seed
depth, lower seeding rates can be
used with these seeders as
compared to broadcasting. In the
Virgin Islands, a billion seeder
has been used successfully. Also a
hydro-seeder is available for use.
Hybrid bermudagrasses (i.e.,
Tifton-85), Mott-grass, stargrasses
and pangolagrass are planted using
sprigs or tops (cuttings or stolons).
Matured material is cut, covered
and transported on a truck or trailer
to the site where it is to be planted.
If more than a day is used between
cutting and planting, the producer
must be concerned about the
planting material overheating. The
material can be soaked with water
to cool it, or it can be unloaded and
spread out in a thinner pile to allow
the heat to escape.
When planting material is
harvested, it should be free of
weedy grasses, well fertilized and
relatively mature (10 to 12 wk old).
Depending on the type of planting
equipment available, the planting
material can be harvested and
handled loose, formed into small
rectangular bales (50 lbs) by a
conventional hay baler, or formed
into large round bales (1,000 to
1,500 Ibs). The baled material
must be planted as quickly as
possible (same day) so that it does
Vegetative propagated grasses
should be planted at the rate of
1.,200 lb (new land) to 1,800 lb (old
land) of planting material per acre.
Even higher rates can be used if the
planting material is nearby, abun-
dant and inexpensive. Producers
are encouraged to first establish a
nursery of a new grass from which
they can expand their planting.
This practice provides the pro-
ducer with less expensive planting
material, and since it is on site,
there is less time spent between
harvesting the planting material
and actual planting.
The land on which the nursery
is established should be prepared
in such a way that it is free of all
weedy grasses before planting the
new grass. If a weedy grass is
present in the nursery, it will be
spread along with the new im-
proved grass, thus contaminating
all of the new pastures.
The planting material can be
broadcast on the soil surface by
hand or with the help of machines.
A "grass planter" has been used for
many years in Florida and
elsehwere. This machine uses a
spinner or fan mechanism to throw
and scatter the planting material. It
is pulled behind a flatbed truck or
trailer that is loaded with the
planting material usually in 50-lb
rectangular bales. A tractor and
four helpers are needed to distrib-
ute the planting material. One
moves bales to the back of the
trailer, two lift bales onto the
planter and cut the strings (bind-
ings), and two one on either side
of the planter feed or drop
pieces of the bales on to the
Once the planting material is
on the ground, it immediately
should be covered or pressed into
the soil. For this purpose, a disk
harrow with the blades set fairly
straight can be used, or a fairway-
type roller that has the flanges with
blunt edges can be used to push the
planting material into the soil. This
tool works well on moist sand.
The soil should then be firmed
around the planting material by
pulling a cultipacker or heavy land
roller over the land at least twice to
create an extra firm seedbed. The
land rollers are usually filled with
water to give them added weight.
A pre-emergent herbicide can
be applied the same day as
planting. Some producers use 2,4-
D (2 lb/acre), a common phenoxy
herbicide, as a pre-emergent herbi-
cide. A post-emergent application
of herbicide can be applied 3 to 4
weeks after planting to control any
broadleaf weeds that develop.
Certain postemerge herbicides such
as Banvel, or a combination
(Weedmaster) can be used on
most but not all grasses.
One must know whether or not
these herbicides will injure the
new grass before using them. For
example. 2.4-D cannot be used on
any seedling grass such as
bahiagrass or limpograss. On the
other hand, Banvel can be used on
limpograss, and, in South Florida.
producers can use Weedmaster
when establishing stargrass and
If herbicides are not available,
mechanical control by mowing at
appropriate times will provide
control of annual weeds or at least
prevent them from crowding out
the new pasture grass.
Cost of establishment depends
on several factors, including loca-
tion, land preparation and cultural
practices. Labor and machinery
will likely account for the greatest
proportion of establishment cost.
If a permanent, perimeter fence
does not exist, this will add to
the establishment cost as well.
For example, in the VI,
establishment cost for 20 acres
could total approximately
$14,000, including site prepara-
tion, seed, fertilizer, fencing,
watering troughs and pipes,
labor and machinery.
Since establishment costs are
only incurred once, but the
benefits are distributed over
time, such costs need to be
annualized (a simple way to
annualize equipment costs, for
example, is to divide equipment
cost by the years of useful life).
For a successful pasture estab-
lishment you must plan ahead:
1 Have the land prepared during
the dry season.
U Prepare a smooth, level, weed-
free and firm seedbed.
3 Be prepared to plant during the
time of year when rainfall is well
Q Use quality seed or matured
Q Always plant into a seedbed with
good soil moisture.
0 When planting, place the seed or
planting material at the appropriate
0 Firm soil around the seed and
use appropriate establishment fer-
tilizer and weed control.
Prepared by Elide Valencia, Assistant Professor of Agronomy, University of the Virgin Islands,
and Gerard D'Souza, Professor of Agricu ltu _ue rsces Economics, West Virginia University.
Issued by the University of the VIr fnd Mic al Experiment Station, James Rakocy,
Funding for this Factsheet was
and Education (SARE) LS 99-107.
the Sustainable Agriculture Research