Clipping or mowing might not be ideal in the fall 

The impact of recent drought conditions throughout much of the region creates the need for producers to manage their pastures a little bit differently this fall. Though there are some benefits to clipping pastures as the cooler weather ushers in, agronomists suggest producers consider other methods to control weeds and encourage forage growth. 

Mowing Fields: Agronomists encourage producers to resist the urge to clip their fields in the fall, especially this year.  “We shouldn’t have a problem with pastures getting high with grasses after the year that we have had,” Travis Harper, field specialist in agronomy with the University of Missouri Extension, said.  “We want them to be taller in some cases than they actually are because the above ground growth of a perennial grass plant corresponds with the below ground growth, and we want a deep of root system as possible to get plants to be viable through droughts like we had this year.” 

Typically, field specialists in agronomy recommend producers clip fields filled with cool season grasses in the spring. If livestock are unable to keep up with the rapid growth of cool season grasses in the spring, then mow the pastures as they get mature and prior to seed heads emerging. Mowing pastures will allow the fields to reset and creates a longer window of when the grass is in the ideal maturity for grazing. 

This management practice does not apply to cool season grasses in the fall because the grasses usually only put out seed heads in the spring due to their growth cycle. The cool season grasses start to grow in the fall and the seed heads appear in the spring. 

Clipping for Weed Control: Clip fields as a form of weed control may not be the most effective strategy. If producers wait until the weeds are tall enough to mow, then the weeds have already competed with grasses and other forages for sunlight, water and nutrients. At that point, the weeds have already successfully competed against desirable plants, so mowing pastures would only be an effort to reduce seed production. But this is a challenging management practice because weeds produce seeds at different times. 

“When you get out there and mow you can be mowing late enough that you are potentially spreading seeds to a further area, or you may be mowing early enough that the plant can grow back and still produce seeds,” Harper explained. 

When addressing weeds in pastures producers, should take inventory of the weeds on their property, eradicating weeds that are the largest problem first. Treatment options and timing depend on the type of weed, there is no single method of weed control that works on all weed species.  

Rest and Fertilization: Producers looking to get more out of their cool season grasses may want to consider, if possible, allowing the pastures to have a break from livestock grazing. “I can’t stress enough the need for pastures getting as much rest as they can going into the winter,” Harper stated. 

However, specialists say fertilizing pastures is even more important than giving the fields a break. “These plants grow more, produce more, and recover faster when they are in adequately fertilized soils. So, if it has been a while since someone has done a soil test, fall is a great time to get out there and do some soil testing, find out what issues need to be addressed, and get some fertilizer on this fall that can help that plant grow all winter long,” Harper said.

Lastly, producers should to start to plan for weed control. Droughts have impacted fields in such a way that the spring stands will be weaker and thinner. This produces an environment more susceptible for weed growth. So, experts recommend being ready to combat more weeds than years past, come next spring. 


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