One of the most common observations by forage growers this spring has been the slow growth of pastures and hay fields. In some cases, its easily attributable to weather. In others, the reasons may be a result of a multitude of factors.
When assessing a forge stand issue, it’s always good to look back, sometimes even multiple years, to see if an ‘origin’ of the problem can be found. Sometimes it can. Sometimes it can’t. Often, however, it at the very least gives us some options to consider.
Think back over the last year or so of your forage stand. Spring 2019 was excessively wet for many. Forage production was better than it had been for a number of years for many years. Fields were thick and grew well. In some cases, the moisture delayed harvest to a degree, but yields were pretty good across the board.
July hit, and so did summer. Temperatures increased and moisture ceased, in some cases seemingly erasing the early season abundance we had. Forages in a recovery time period (post haying or after grazing) may have experienced quite a bit of heat/drought stress at a critical period of regrowth. In some cases, summer annual weeds took hold. Foxtail, in particular, reared its ugly head, causing yet another ‘pressure’ on our stand recovery, keeping our cool season species even further behind.
Depending on your hay timing or grazing management, the rapid end to the growing season may have had an effect as well. Grasses need a recovery period in the fall to grow enough leaves to capture sunlight energy to replenish root systems before winter dormancy. Our rapid drop from growing season to dormancy didn’t give much time for some systems to provide recovery. Stands that don’t have adequate growth in the fall tend to take off slower in the spring.
Spring 2020 brought varied moisture – but consistent cold events. An April stretch of frost/freeze events likely stunted growth of forages already struggling to take hold, with cloudy conditions following those events slowing recovery further.
Bottom line: a number of ‘events’ along the way likely have resulted in variable responses to fertilizer, grazing, and even herbicide applications this spring. The result will be a need for careful forage observations in the short term to make sure stocking rates are acceptable and herbicides are applied appropriately. Down the road, a hard look at forage supplies will also likely be necessary.
Too Wet to Mow?
Another wet weekend may have cut out your opportunity to mow. If so, it may start ‘getting ahead’ of your mowing more than you’d like.
Rather than maintaining your normal mowing height, now might be a time to raise mowing height and start lowering it in steps. It is always best never to take more than one third of the grass blade off at one time. When we do, the plant reacts by using stored energy reserves to quickly send up new growth, reducing energy available for to deal with weather stress or damage done by insects or disease. Raise deck height to achieve this when possible.
If not possible, raise the deck to cut as high as possible, even if you are removing more than a third. You’ll likely have to mow more frequently, but you can then start to bring the height back down progressively to target height rather than all at once.