Help your pasture and forage recover from the drought

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While most of the drought attention was given to corn and soybeans, pastures and hay crops were suffering just as much. Many Corn Belt operations had to ship cattle early and liquidate beef herds because of the lack of forage. And those who kept some livestock have been, and maybe still are, scrambling to find hay for the winter. There are also concerns about how forage and hay crops will be treated by the winter and what can be done to enhance their recovery in the spring. If those are some of your questions, we’re glad you asked.

There are several pro-active management actions which can be taken to help says Iowa State University agronomist Stephen Barnhart. He says some rain has helped relieve the stress of one of the most extreme drought conditions of recent memory, but there is still an uncomfortable feeling about the ability of the pastures and hay crops to recover sufficiently.

Forage management

The fall is the time that such forages adjust themselves to shorter periods of light and progressively cooler temperatures into a “cold hardening” stage. He says the genetics of the variety and the local weather will have a lot to do with its success and how the plant crown and taproot are able to withstand the onslaught of winter. The more successful varieties can survive temperatures as low as 0ºF without suffering tissue damage. At lower temperatures the ability of the plant to withstand the conditions varies with the genetics.

For successful survival ahead of winter the plant needs 5-6 weeks of uninterrupted growth to accumulate sufficient carbohydrates and proteins before dormancy. Once a killing freeze of 23 to 24ºF occurs, the forage should not be cut or grazed until the spring. That is for the benefit of the plant. However for the benefit of your livestock, if you need to bale or graze, Barnhart says it is best to wait for the freeze, and leave a 5-6 inch stubble, but don’t take the last cutting if the crop was planted earlier in the year.

Barnhart gives the same advice for pasture management. He says allow 3-4 weeks of fall recovery before a killing freeze, even though it is impossible to know when that will occur. He adds that if grazing is necessary, leave at least a 3 inch stubble.

Barnhart is quick to add, “The practical problem with these management strategies is that it involves removing livestock from pasture. And no more hay harvest – in an already hay shortage season. I can’t decide what is most important for you.”

Fertilization

Barnhart says fall is the best time to apply potash and phosphate on pastures and forage, which will help with crops that are stressed by the drought. P & K will help the crop get through the winter and improve regrowth in the spring with better root systems. And he says crops that are heavily drought stressed will benefit from more time in the spring to recover. Barnhart suggests that 25-40 pounds of nitrogen per acre will help grass pasture during the last few weeks of growth to stimulate tillering and more vigorous spring recovery. And he says give hay crops more time to recover in the spring if possible.

If the pasture or forage crop did not have the chance to recover before dormancy, it will still suffer some stress in the spring, and should be allowed extra time to recover before being cut or grazed. For alfalfa, he says delay the first cut until it reaches early to mid-bloom, and for pasture wait until the grass has 3-4 inches of growth.

Forage Rehabilitation

Barnhart suggests interseeding or frost-seeding pastures late in the winter or early in the spring. He says frost-seeding works best with legumes in the thinnest, least competitive sod. Grasses are more effectively established with interseeding. If the 2012 forage is very short, that will allow the least competition and aid the new seedling. Thoughtful rotational grazing and cutting will aid the crop for the spring and summer months.

Summary:

Many forage crops and pastures sustained serious damage from the drought and are in need of careful management this fall and next spring in an effort to allow them to prepare for winter and get established before 2013 grazing and hay cutting. Allowing fall growth, fertilization, and rehabilitative seeding in the early spring will help the crops recover.

Source: FarmGate blog



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