Fall Management Tips For Drought-Stressed Forages

Summer drought in 2012 has led to tight hay supplies and high prices. Consider these forage management tips as you prioritize your options.

Published on: Oct 4, 2012

The Midwest has seen some of the most extreme drought conditions of recent memory. Some rain has come recently for most of this area, but not enough for most people, especially farmers, to feel comfortable. Many pastures remain in poor condition. Many hayfields are showing enough recovery to maybe yield at least one more cutting. Regionally, hay supplies are tight and prices are high.

Forage management considerations are many. Here are some things to think about as you prioritize your options for 2013. Iowa State University Extension forage agronomist Steve Barnhart offers the following news, views and observations.

HAY IS VALUABLE: Hay is in short supply and is high priced. While many pastures are still in poor condition from summer drought, hayfields are showing some recovery. Forage management options are important to consider as you plan for 2013.
HAY IS VALUABLE: Hay is in short supply and is high priced. While many pastures are still in poor condition from summer drought, hayfields are showing some recovery. Forage management options are important to consider as you plan for 2013.

Pity those poor hayfields and pastures after the major drought of 2012

The goal is to help keep perennial forage plants 'perennial.' During the fall weeks, perennial forage legumes and grasses respond to shortening days and cooling average daily temperatures and progress through their gradual "cold hardening" process. The genetics of the forage variety and the local climatic conditions determine how cold tolerant the plant crown and taproot can be during the winter months.

Most successfully winter-hardened perennial forage legumes and grasses can withstand soil temperatures in the crown area to about 0 to 4 degrees F without crown tissue damage. At lower soil and crown temperatures, varieties and individual plants will vary in the degree of cold damage they may experience.

To best acquire their potential for winter survival, these forage plants should get five to six weeks of uninterrupted growth to accumulate root carbohydrates and proteins before going dormant for the winter. A 'killing freeze' is about 23 to 24 degrees F for several hours. After that occurs, no more cutting or grazing until next season.

If you decide to make a fall cutting or graze the forage, you must manage it

If you do decide to cut one more hay cutting or grazing in the fall, it is important to manage fall harvests or grazing to give the forage plants the best chance for strong winter survival. It is best to wait until at or after the killing freeze (23 to 24 degrees F) for the last hay cutting, then leave a 5-inch to 6-inch stubble. It is not recommended to take a late season harvest from a new (that is, 2012) seeding.