Five ways to drought proof your forages
At the 2023 MFA Winter Agronomy Meeting in January, David Moore, MFA range and pasture specialist, was part of a panel discussion about the effects of the 2022 drought.
“Do you think there will be another drought?” he asked, and then surveyed the room, where every hand was raised. “How many of you said no? Zero! Droughts are inevitable. If we offer producers ways to be more successful through the tough times, they will also be more profitable through favorable times.”
Moore encouraged the audience to consider five practices that can help drought-proof a farm.
1. Always start with hay ground because it will be the first to show deficiencies or abuse. Enroll in Nutri-Track, MFA’s precision nutrient program that manages soil fertility on an acre-by-acre basis. “The forage producers who are most successful through a drought are signed up with Nutri-Track,” said Moore. “They’re following the precision recommendations and seeing the real-life results and yields. At the very least, producers should be soil testing while making sure they’re taking care of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).”
2. Properly manage pH and control weeds. “You may remember the big drought in 2012. Weeds kicked us hard that following year,” Moore said. “Find out your pH levels and get some lime on those fields, if needed. Then be sure to control the weeds by either spraying or using an impregnated fertilizer.”
3. Don’t mow or graze lower than 4 inches. This helps reduce weeds, encourages soil health and keeps the grass in a mode to quickly recover and grow. Moore added that with warm-season grasses the height should be kept at 6 to 8 inches because native grasses need leaf surface to continue growing vigorously. Their growth points occur higher on the stem than cool-season grasses.
4. Aggressively go after P and K levels. “If you’ve got soil tests that are showing some terribly low amounts of phosphorus and potassium, it’s going to be a train wreck during a drought,” Moore explained. “In those cases, hold off on the nitrogen for a bit and go back to work on the P and K levels. It’s a big deal that needs to be fixed to move forward successfully. P and K aren’t going anywhere. We don’t lose those nutrients with rain events like we do with nitrogen. Come springtime, apply some nitrogen, and suddenly that field will come back to life.”
5. Mitigate the effects of endophyte by diversifying forages and using Ricochet Fescue Max mineral. “The first thing everybody thinks of when we talk about putting something in our pastures other than fescue is clover,” Moore said. “And that would be probably the last on my list for farms in Missouri that we are trying to make more drought resistant. I would have native warm-season grasses and fescue rather than clover, which is going to quickly die during a drought.”
Generally, Moore concluded, pastures are more resilient than hay fields and have the ability to repair themselves if they are properly fed, have less competition from weeds and are allowed to rest. He encourages producers to visit with their MFA livestock specialist, agronomist or key account manager to get specific guidance for their individual situations.
“If you do some planning now, pay close attention to fertility and weed control and follow good management practices, your forages will be in better shape and more tolerant to droughts in the future,” Moore said.
This story was part of coverage of MFA forage production tour. Read the related story HERE: https://www.todaysfarmermagazine.com/mag/2072-laying-the-groundwork
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