Forage specialist recommends diversifying forage systems

As the searing summer heat starts to fade and the cool fall air makes its way into the Ozarks, one might be tempted to focus solely on greener pastures. But drought conditions have taken a toll on farms in the region and the negative impact of the prolonged dry spells will linger into future grazing seasons. Though the current drought may be easing, no doubt others lurk on the horizon. According to data compiled by University of Missouri Extension climatologist, Pat Guinan, Missouri has experienced droughts the last 20 out of 23 years. 

Prior Planning

In the middle of a drought, it is usually too late to take significant action in regard to growing additional forages. Therefore, forage specialists recommend producers take time now to prepare for future droughts. 

“What I try to do is tell people ­- let’s plan for the next one. We are at the point now we need to be planning for the next drought, the next grazing season,” Harley Naumann, Ph.D., University of Missouri Extension state forage specialist, said. Forage specialists recommend producers work with local extension agents to determine a plan that will position their operation to be better prepared for the next drought.

First Steps

One of the first steps to creating a plan is to take the time to carefully observe all pastures and assess the stands and forage conditions. After a drought be prepared to see thin pastures, weakened stands and less forage available. Remember it will take time for pastures to recover after a drought.  Additionally, expect to find more weeds.

Once producers know the condition of their pastures, then they can start planning. In many cases the plan will include what producers can plant that will serve as a sort of forage insurance in case of a drought. 

Native Warm Season Grasses 

During extremely dry summer conditions, operations can benefit from stands of warm season grasses. “One of our most underutilized tools is our native warm season grasses,” Naumann explained.  “By diversifying our system to include more native warm season grasses we can make our systems more resilient against drought conditions.” 

Native warm season grasses grow well in hot, dry conditions. “This is a great time to be thinking about how many acres or what acres could I possibly renovate to native warm season grasses because that process starts in the fall as well,” Naumann added.  

Pasture Renovation

Forage specialists say fall is the ideal time of year to consider pasture renovation. “As far as considering all the options, we need to be thinking about, ‘Do I want to overseed my beat-up tall fescue-based pastures with more cool season perennials?’ It’s a great opportunity with a lot of bare ground to get a new establishment of some things like Orchard grass for example,” Naumann stated. 

Producers may also want to consider overseeding with perennial cool season grasses this fall as well as overseeding winter annuals. When selecting grasses for any season consider choosing drought resistant varieties.  


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