Osu Agronomist: Be Patient With Winter-injured forages
Farmers need to give winter-injured forage crops plenty of time to recover this spring in order to avoid disappointing yields later in the growing season, says Ohio State agronomist Mark Sulc. Some growers who are short on hay may be hasty to get a first cutting. However, cutting winter-injured hay at the normal time can lead to season-long regrowth problems, Sulc says.
"While cutting later may reduce quality, farmers should accept a lower quality forage at first cutting to avoid disappointing regrowth," Sulc says.
"Also accept the fact you'll have a less-intensive cutting schedule of three rather than four cuttings this year on winter-injured stands."
Growers should time first cuttings based on the severity of winter injury, Sulc says. Moderately injured hay may be harvested at the early-bloom stage or about five to seven days later than usual. More seriously injured hay should be cut as late as the mid- to full-bloom stage. Healthy stands can be cut in a timely fashion for high-quality forage.
Sulc says some of this spring's problems can be traced to last fall when growers who anticipated a winter hay shortage made cuttings as late as mid-October. Regrowth after the late cutting reduced plants' energy reserves, resulting in this spring's weakened stands, he says.
"A mid-fall cutting has the potential to be the most harmful for winter survival," Sulc says. "As it is, a lot of these late-cut stands were severely injured. We are also seeing the long-term effects of injury from winter 1995-96 and from the excessive rain last spring."
Another result of last fall's cuttings is a reduction in the amount of ground cover, leaving soils vulnerable to temperature fluctuations in late winter. That caused soil heaving in some areas, Sulc says. However, stand damage from soil heaving was not as severe as it was in 1996, he says.
"We've had several reports of soil heaving," Sulc says. "Certainly it was not as intense and widespread as it was last year."
The Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service rated 44 percent of the hay crop as good as of Sunday (4/27), compared to 34 percent one year ago. The service rated 38 percent of the 1997 crop as fair, compared to 39 percent a year ago. The service rated 9 percent of this year's hay as poor; 7 percent excellent; and 2 percent very poor.
In Indiana, the state statistics service reported 6 percent of pasture as excellent; 36 percent good; 39 percent fair; 16 percent poor; and 3 percent very poor.
A winter-injured hay crop will be shorter than normal and will green-up slowly, Sulc says. In addition, the stand will be uneven, and individual plants will grow asymmetrically at the crown, he says.
To confirm winter injury, growers should dig up several plants and split the roots lengthwise. Roots of healthy plants will be firm and white, while unhealthy plants will be discolored. Plants probably will die this year if roots are more than 50 percent discolored, Sulc says.
The continued cool temperatures this spring have slowed recovery of injured plants as well as the regrowth of healthy stands, Sulc says.
"If the stand is healthy, it's just growing very slowly; the cool temperatures are really not hurting it," Sulc says. "But if the stand was in bad shape coming out of winter, the cool weather is probably hurting it."
Ohio's temperatures were 5.3 degrees below normal for the week ending Sunday, the state's ag statistics service reported. The average temperature was 48.6 F that week. Southwest Ohio had the greatest deviation of 6.8 degrees below its normally expected temperature, while northwest Ohio was closest to its norm, but still below it by 3.6 degrees.
"May is normally when we get the bulk of growth, so healthier stands can still take off pretty quickly and yield well this spring," Sulc says.
To help hay regrow under current cool conditions, growers should make sure soil fertility is adequate, Sulc says. They should have soils tested and apply any needed fertilizer soon, so the first crop can benefit when warmer weather speeds growth.