Producers and agents have been asking about what to do with their forages
this year in view of the dry weather. The National Weather Service has some
interesting information I thought I would pass along. Below are excerpts from
the National Weather Service website regarding the long-term weather outlook.
In mid-January the atmosphere over the eastern North Pacific and western U.S.
began to exhibit typical La Niña characteristics in response to the cooling in
the tropical central Pacific Ocean," said Vice Admiral
Conrad C. Lautenbacher,
undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.
"This pattern will favor continued drought in parts of the South and Southwest
from Arizona to Arkansas and Louisiana, and above normal precipitation in the
Northwest and the Tennessee Valley area." Periodic precipitation in the drought
areas and dryness in the stormy areas also are typical within the larger scale
climate pattern described above.
Continued abnormally dry weather through the first half of January led to
expanding drought across the Southwest and continued drought over the southern
Plains. Beneficial rains in the southern Mississippi Valley brought some
improvement to that region by mid-January, but severe drought continued over
Arkansas and parts of Missouri and Louisiana. Probabilities for below-normal
precipitation and above-normal warmth enhanced the odds for drought over much of
the Southwest at least through April, with a good chance that drought will
The creation of the La Niña weather pattern is an ominous prediction of poor
growing conditions in 2006. So what should you tell your producers to do for
their pastures and hayfields? We know a lot of fields were beaten up by the 2005
drought so they will need some extra care this year. That means checking the
fertility (preferably through SOIL TESTS!), scouting for and controlling weeds,
and developing a rotational grazing program.
Why are these practices more important during drought conditions than in
other years, you might ask? First of all, good fertility equals good growth when
weather conditions are good. Poor fertility equals poor growth regardless of
weather conditions, so good fertility automatically tips the odds in your favor
by enabling you to take advantage of any respite the drought may give.
Secondly, weed management may be especially critical this year.
Drought-damaged pastures will likely be on the thin and overgrazed side this
spring, which will give weeds a head start. During scarce rainfall conditions,
weeds will compete with your forage for the input you cannot control. You can,
however, control the weeds. Identify the weed and use the method that fits. It
may be a good early-intensive rotational grazing program, or judicious use of
herbicide – or for the overachievers, both good grazing and herbicide.
The third factor is rotational grazing. Research and producer experience have
shown that rotationally grazed pastures maintain productivity longer into a
drought than those that are continuously grazed. Lots of folks resist rotational
grazing, citing the fact (or observation, belief, misconception, or their own
darn hardheadedness) that they don’t have time to be moving cattle every day.
Discussions about how long it takes to move cattle from pasture to pasture
become a moot point if they are hauling cattle to the sale barn after the grass
runs out. Cattle aren’t real smart (if they were we wouldn’t eat them), but they
are trainable. Their appetite for fresh grass overpowers their wildness in a few
days, and they move themselves when the gate is opened. Good electric fences
teach them manners and put you in control of the program, which is the way it
should be. By the way, you don’t have to move cattle every day to see the
benefits for your pastures. Rotating pastures once a week isn’t bad, and twice a
week gains most of the benefits for most livestock systems.
So, to cover the points again: good fertility, good weed control, and good
grazing management will lessen effects of the drought. Otherwise, there is
always the salebarn or irrigation.
John Jennings, Extension Forage Specialist
University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service
Division of Agriculture
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