With extreme heat this past week, range conditions are deteriorating fast from the western part of the state expanding to the east, says University of Nebraska Extension range and forage specialist, Jerry Volesky. One way to overcome forage shortages that are sure to come is to plant summer annuals like sudangrass, sorghum-sudangrass hybrids, forage sorghum and millet, he says.
Right now, warm season grasses are holding their own, but will need moisture in the next week or two. "This is a critical period for rainfall," Volesky says. "We are already definitely down in total production." Shorter warm season grasses like sideoats grama have turned brown.
Cool-season grasses greened up early and finished early, he says. "They are a lot shorter than normal."
With low forage production in summer pastures this season, producers can still plant summer annual forages to fill the gap. Wheat harvest has been early this season, so planting additional forages into wheat stubble, particularly under irrigation, will offer opportunities for additional grazing or haying, Volesky says.
Most summer annuals will provide considerable production if planted in the coming weeks and there is adequate rainfall or irrigation. Volesky says that there are two basic planting strategies for summer annuals in dryland conditions. Some producers elect to seed forages into dry soil, hoping for precipitation. Others decide to wait until there is precipitation to provide a moist seedbed for the forages. "This year, it is probably worth the risk to get the seed in the ground," Volesky says. Once established, these forage plants generally grow rapidly.
Forage sorghum, sudangrass, pearl millet and foxtail millet are typical choices for Nebraska. Pearl millet will regrow after being hayed or grazed. Foxtail millet is thinner-stemmed and makes better hay, according to Volesky. If planting is delayed into August, producers should skip summer annual grasses and look instead to oats and turnips for fill-in forages.
You can learn more by calling Volesky at 308-696-6710 or go online to read the UNL NebGuide, "Summer Annual Forage Grasses." Watch for more details in a future print issue of Nebraska Farmer magazine.