Hay and pasture management after drought

Forage yields as hay or pasture might be low this fall as a result of summer drought and high temperatures

Forage yields as hay or pasture might be low this fall as a result of summer drought and high temperatures. Following are management tips for drought-stressed forage fields. In many cases drought-stressed pasture or hay fields can be revived by rest, rain and fertilization.

Resting period: Cool-season grasses and legumes use their root reserves for their photorespiration activity under hot, dry weather conditions. In particular, drought stressed grasses usually do not have enough green leaf area to do photosynthesis and therefore these cool-season grasses need to have a rest period to store reserve carbohydrates in the roots after summer drought. If these stressed grasses are cut or grazed right after drought, then it will take a lot longer to recover from these stresses.

Fertilization: Right after drought-ending rain, applying nitrogen fertilizer (50 lbs. N per acre) can help the drought-stressed grass hay fields and pasture to recover faster and survive the harsh winter by storing more root reserves. If the soil of drought-stressed hay and pasture is low in phosphorus and potassium, it’s important to fertilize with these nutrients to have better winter survival. Also adjusting phosphorus would help lower the risk of grass tetany by increasing magnesium uptake in the spring.

Reseeding: If the hay fields or pasture are thinned by the drought, they can be reseeded as needed by interseeding, no-till planting or frost-seeding in early spring. In particular, no-till can be a good option since it can reduce moisture loss by disturbing less soil than plowing or disking.

Stubble height: To restore healthy forage stands, it is important not to graze or harvest drought-stressed forage plants too short in the fall. It is desirable to leave 6 inches of stubble before entering winter, which will be helpful to catch snow for moisture replenishment and for regrowth in early spring. 

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