Fall Management of Warm-Season Grasses Aids Spring Growth

Sep 14, 2012

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The impact of the 2011 drought – one of the worst single-year droughts in recorded history – was not fully realized until this spring when cool-season grasses overwhelmed the weakened warm-season forages, causing producers problems throughout this year.

Though weather has been better in the Southern Great Plains, agricultural consultants at the Noble Foundation are encouraging producers to continue their drought recovery efforts to help bolster next spring’s warm-season production. “This year has been a better year for rain, but it has still been fairly dry,” said James Rogers, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Noble Foundation. “Management from this point forward will impact warm-season growth next spring and continued drought recovery of pastures.”

Last year, warm-season forages — experienced significant stand failures. Warm-season forages serve the region’s primary agricultural enterprise, forage-based beef cattle production. The drought caused an influx of cool-season grasses which shaded and impeded the growth of the warm-season pastures. Some stands experienced complete failure.

The same scenario could happen again this fall and winter. Warm-season grasses have not fully recovered from the 2011 drought, allowing ample opportunity for cool-season forages to take hold, provided there is good moisture availability. “Knowing that we could have a possible repeat of a cool-season flush, we can manage to take advantage of the cool-season forages for our benefit,” Rogers said. “Producers can manage the warm-season grasses now and then graze cool-season grasses in the winter to reduce their competition with the warm-season grasses in the spring.”

For all warm-season perennial grasses, the time from August to frost is crucial for the plants to build carbohydrate reserves for spring growth. If possible, Rogers suggested allowing weak stands of bermudagrass and native grass to rest from grazing during the fall to give them a chance to “put on leaf growth” prior to frost. “Leaving 6 to 10 inches of residual leaf growth on native grass and 4 to 6 inches on bermudagrass will provide benefits to the plant and help suppress cool-season grasses,” Rogers said. “Taking this simple step this year will pay dividends next spring.”

Rogers also suggested using grazing management to suppress cool-season forages during late winter and early spring (prior to native grass breaking winter dormancy). Pastures that had strong cool-season forages last winter should be specifically targeted this year.

“The take home message is that cool-season grasses provide excellent forage for grazing or early season hay production,” Rogers said. “However, they can delay and further weaken warm-season forage stands still recovering from drought, so gain the dual benefit by grazing them. This helps the producer and the warm-season grasses.”

Source: The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Inc.

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