Beef producers are often better off letting cattle harvest the pasture than they are cutting it themselves for hay.

That's one of the cost-cutting messages delivered to a Fall Field Day audience at Clemson University's Edisto Research and Education Center. An audience of more than 275 heard the latest on research on peanuts, cotton, soybeans and vegetables at Edisto REC.

John Andrae, forage specialist at the University of Georgia, pointed out that hay costs the farmer $100 a ton, not counting the cost of the land, and costs are going up along with the price of fuel. It's cheaper to over-seed bermudagrass pastures with small grains.

He said over-seeding with annual rye alone can extend grazing by 50 days, but adding Arrowleaf clover to the rye can extend grazing by 90 days while helping cut the cost of nitrogen. Adding rotational grazing to the management strategy adds further efficiency.

Andrae said that fencing cattle into smaller areas and rotating them around as each is grazed intensively can result in 70 percent of the available forage being harvested, compared to only about 30 percent when cattle are allowed to graze extensively.

Producers can also save on hay costs by stockpiling — leaving about 6 inches of stubble in the field after the last cutting of the season. The stockpiled stubble can be grazed rather than using baled hay early in winter.

Andrae strongly recommended the use of quality seed and monitoring for good germination rates. It's important to plant as early as is recommended for the producer's area.

Field day visitors also heard Larry Olson, Clemson Extension beef cattle specialist, tout the benefits of good crossbreeding strategies using combinations of sires such as Angus, Charolais, Gelbvieh, Simmental and Angus-Gelbvieh. He said that feedlot carcass data for 2005 show that the crossbred calves produced in Edisto REC's Integrated Resource Management Productions Systems program “were just the right size.”

“They were what the industry likes as far as yield grades and ribeye area,” he said. The calves were all yield grade 1, 2 or 3, and the ribeye area averaged 12.98 square inches. The calves were also feed efficient, producing a pound of gain for less than 6 pounds of feed.

Peanuts have been a big success story for South Carolina agriculture. Acreage has increased from around 11,000 four years ago to 59,000 this year. About 50,000 of those acres are on new land, according to Jay Chapin, Clemson Extension peanut specialist.

“That makes inoculants very important,” he said. He recommended liquids over granulars for new-land peanuts and urged growers to watch costs.

He advised against double rates on inoculants and against spending money on special additives until research has proven they work.

“Spend your money on proven products like fungicides and herbicides,” he said. “We know we've got to control diseases and weeds.” He and his research associate, James Thomas, are also looking at ways to take inputs out of the picture.

“We're looking at three ways to reduce costs,” said Thomas. “First, take the calcium out. Second, reduce the number of fungicide sprays. Third, change from a Virginia-type peanut to a runner, since runners take fewer inputs.”

Smaller runner seed can reduce costs by about $25 an acre. Runners can also be grown without additional calcium if soil test levels are above 600 pounds per acre, further reducing production costs by $25 an acre. Soil tests showed residual calcium levels of between 650 and 710 pounds per acre for the test plots.

Whether growing runners or Virginia types, fungicides contribute a significant proportion of total production costs. Many South Carolina peanut acres are on land with no previous peanut history, so the risk of soil diseases will probably be less than in fields previously planted in peanuts.

Making the last two soil fungicide applications with chlorothalonil, which controls leaf diseases only, can reduce costs by about $20 an acre. Thomas said that results from comparisons of these three reduced input costs — seed, calcium and fungicide — and the two most commonly planted varieties, Georgia Green (a runner) and NC V11 (a Virginia type), will help focus future research. That research may include other varieties, fungicides and fungicide timings.

Yields and economic return data will be announced during a January statewide peanut meeting in Orangeburg.

Chris Main, Extension weed specialist, advised growers to control the two toughest weeds in South Carolina peanuts — pigweed and sicklepod — by putting out Valor and Dual behind the planter and using Cadre later for small pigweed and 2,4DB for sicklepod.

The field day also included looks at demonstration plots for cotton, soybeans, vegetables and melons, pest control strategies for transgenic cotton and a variable-rate irrigation system.