Spring Drought Forage Recommendations
Tim Fritz & Kody Umble
June 7, 2023
The majority of the region that King’s AgriSeeds serves is very dry. Until this current weather pattern is broken, we remain in a dry pattern that will have a strong impact on our crops and forages. Winter annual forages such as triticale and rye yields were down, spring forage crops such as oats are way down in yield, and our perennial grasses are beginning to go dormant. If we don’t get rain soon, alfalfas will soon be impacted as well. The new corn crop is also being impacted. To put it bluntly, we need rain! Myself, along with most in agriculture are optimists and we know will get rain again at some point. But the question remains: How do we prepare as forage supplies tighten on our farms?
Manage what you have established and is already growing well
- For Perennial Crops: Slow the harvest down whether you are grazing or making hay. After you cut a perennial crop the roots will die back (this is especially true of the grasses), allowing less reach for what little moisture is in the soil. Higher cutting heights will retain more roots than crops that are cut low! But you may want to consider letting the crop get more mature as well to increase yields. Quality will be reduced by waiting, but consider your yield needs as well. For pastures utilize a sacrifice area or consider barn feeding to allow the perennial pasture to rest until adequate regrowth occurs. This could be for 60 days or more if the weather pattern does not change.
- For Spring Annual Forage Crops: What is your need of yield verse quality? If yield is more important than quality, consider harvesting at boot stage rather than flag leaf. Since these crops are typically one cut, it is ok to cut low but if high amounts of nitrogen were applied, cutting low could increase nitrates if they are an issue.
- For Corn: Some corn fields look a little thin but not too thin. Manage weeds and don’t worry about a less than ideal population, especially if you planted a semi-flex or flex hybrid. As the season progresses further into June and July, the total yield potential from fields replanted overall goes down. Most of our KingFisher and Red Tail hybrids will compensate for less than ideal populations. Replanting in dry conditions can be very risky.
- For Summer Annual Forage Crops: If you already have a crop growing, wonderful! As a whole, summer annual are much more water efficient. Be cautious on applying too much nitrogen, especially without sulfur. Too much N has potential to create high nitrate forage. Keep this in mind if considering planting a sorghum into a failed corn stand. Typically high levels of N are applied to corn fields, which can lead to nitrate issues if a sorghum is planted. Also know the herbicide history, if going from a failed corn stand to a sorghum. Some herbicides that were applied to corn may have long residuals which may result in a poor sorghum stand.
New Seeding to Make Up for Yield Loss
Planting summer annuals is the best choice and will remain the best choice until early August. Summer annual grasses are very water efficient compared to virtually all other forage options. However, to be successful, summer annuals must be planted into adequate moisture!
Below are the maximum planting depth recommendations for our area for summer annual grasses (in order of preference of planting in droughty conditions). The bigger the seed, the deeper you can plant, which reduces your establishment risk during dry weather. Smaller seeds can work but understand the risk level is greater.
- Sorghum sudans and sorghums– up to 1 ½”
- Sudangrasses– ¾”
- Millets– ½”
- Teff and Crabgrass– Surface packed into moisture 1/8” to ¼”
Further Seeding Tips:
For No-till: If there is moisture in the seed zone and deeper, plant as soon as possible while there is still moisture! You will likely need additional weight on your drill to plant to the desired maximum depth. If your soil seed zone is already dry, hold off from seeding until a solid rain event occurs. Seeding into a dry seed bed is risky with relatively small seeds.
For Conventional Tillage: You may have enough moisture below the surface, if so till, pack firm, plant and pack again! Do not delay as the soil will dry out! The soil should also be worked to the appropriate fineness for the crop chosen. The smaller the seed the finer the soil must be worked in order to give good seed to soil contact!
If your soil is already dry, delay seeding until there is strong moisture in the seeding depth zone (and deeper at this point!) to get the crop established. You should consider having the seed on your farm ready to go for when it rains.
Knowing what is going on in your fields is critical in decision making. The only way to know what is truly going on is to scout your fields and keep records as to what you find in each field.
We wish you the best in your drought management and let’s trust that the weather will come into a favorable balance in the very near future.