Recent moisture reverses forage outlook, rebuilding will take timeRecent moisture reverses forage outlook, rebuilding will take time
As Texas forage production conditions improve, warm-season grasses are behind schedule or still recovering. Learn more about what's needed to rebound and the latest crop and weather report.
June 23, 2023
Growing conditions greatly improved for many Texas forage producers following deep drought, but it takes more than just rain and sun to grow Bermuda grass, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.
Moisture over the last few months has reversed hay production and grazing outlooks for Texas producers. But hay meadows and pasture management over previous seasons and going forward will factor heavily in yields, said Vanessa Corriher-Olson, AgriLife Extension forage specialist, Overton, and Larry Redmon, professor and associate head for AgriLife Extension in the Texas A&M Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Bryan-College Station.
So far, despite good growing conditions and harvest reports from many areas around the state, Corriher-Olson said many producers’ warm-season grasses are behind schedule or still recovering from overgrazing and inadequate fertilization.
“At least around here, Bermuda grass just started growing,” she said. “I am seeing some bales, but most of the calls I am getting are about Bermuda grass stands not doing so well.”
Many AgriLife Extension agents around the state were reporting good hay yields and grazing and improving production conditions, however some areas were beginning to show signs of decline due to high temperatures and drying conditions.
Forage producers seeing mixed results
Recent rainfall has set growing conditions up well, but forage production has not gotten off to a strong start, Corriher-Olson said. Drought stress, lack of fertilization and late freezes followed by humidity-borne fungi from recent rains have set many producers’ grazing and potential hay production back despite good soil moisture conditions.
Corriher-Olson said much of a grazing pasture or hay meadow’s early season performance is likely related to maintenance of the stands. Many producers reduced fertilizer applications or did not fertilize Bermuda grass stands due to record-high fertilizer prices last year.
Nutrient deficiencies led to poor growth, thinning stands and lack of vigor during stressful weather, she said. For instance, potassium deficiencies and wet conditions have led to fungal outbreaks, including Bipolaris leaf spot, that are setting already thinned Bermuda grass stands back even further.
“Pastures that were not fertilized or that were overgrazed are probably struggling,” she said.
Fertilization, maintenance key to forage success
Corriher-Olson said rebuilding stands will require time, effort and investment. She suggests starting with a soil test to make sure pastures receive sufficient inputs to adequately restore nutrient availability.
Restoring nutrients in grazing pastures is as critical to performance as it is in hay production, she said. Livestock manure returns some nutrients to the soil, but pastures that were not fertilized correctly are likely equally deficient.
“Fertilizer prices have softened some, so that is a positive,” she said. “They’re still not cheap, but we need to think about the short- and long-term implications of our management decisions.”
Managing weeds should also be a priority to help warm-season forages flourish, she said. Without proper control, broadleaf weeds can outcompete Bermuda grass for fertilizer, moisture and sun.
Redmon said it costs less to maintain healthy pastures and hay meadows than to restore productive Bermuda grass stands.
“Fertilizing is expensive, but when you don’t fertilize Bermuda grass there are unintended consequences that pop up,” he said. “Bermuda grass was bred and selected to grow on fertilizer, so you’ve got to feed it. If you don’t, it thins and opens up. Then you have to spend more money on herbicides, or it can’t compete with broadleaf weeds, or even worse, grassy weeds can establish.”
Hay production ramping up
Both Redmon and Corriher-Olson agree the price for round bales of hay from moderately managed meadows are unlikely to fall below $100. Improved supplies and better grazing conditions may moderate hay prices, but higher fertilizer, herbicide, fuel and labor costs have pushed the break-even per-bale price beyond $100 for quality hay.
Fertilizer is 50%-60% of the cost to produce a single bale of hay, Redmon said.
East Texas producers with well-maintained hay fields and the ability to harvest around early spring weather could have high expectations for hay production this season, he said. Some producers around Beaumont are already cutting or nearing a second harvest and have the potential for four cuttings this season.
Cooler nighttime temperatures held up warm-season emergence and production further north, he said. Nighttime temperatures need to be consistently above 60 degrees for Bermuda grass to become active.
With higher temperatures settling in, producers now need windows of sunny days to cut, cure and bale, Corriher-Olson said. That has been difficult in many parts of the state due to consistent rain and forecasts with chances of rain.
“Agriculture is a heck of a business to be in because you’re always at the mercy of Mother Nature,” Redmon said. “But we can always plan ahead and stick to management plans in the hopes the weather cooperates, because that helps us maximize the opportunities we have and avoid setbacks.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Dry conditions returned with above-normal temperatures and humidity. There were a few scattered storms throughout the district. Soil moisture was short to adequate. Pastures continued to improve with warm weather and late spring rains. Good quality grazing was available, and the first hay cutting produced good yields. Pasture and rangeland conditions were beginning to deteriorate under dry, hot conditions. Corn reached firm dough to dent stage with the 100-plus degree daily temperatures. Later-planted corn was getting short of moisture for final filling, which may trim off the excellent yields previously expected. Overall, corn was expected to produce above the long-term average yields. The wheat harvest was complete with varying yields. Cotton began squaring. Fleahopper populations built up in ditches and rangelands and have now begun to move into cotton fields. Sorghum progressed nicely and avoided many insect problems so far. Livestock were in good condition, and prices remained steady.
Temperatures were rising. An extended heat wave could hurt pastures and dryland corn and sorghum. Cotton planting was in full swing with most dryland and irrigated cotton acres planted. Several counties reported better-than-expected wheat harvest yields and test weights. More rain will be needed to sustain pastures, crops and stock tanks.
Hot, dry, but humid conditions were taking a toll on pastures and crops. Crops were still doing well with the vast spring rainfall. Corn was doing well but was expected to decline in the 100-degree heat predicted for the next week. Grain sorghum was coloring. Corn and grain harvest should begin within the next few weeks. Furrow irrigation for cotton continued where available. Early planted rice was beginning to head. Rice water demand was expected to increase under extreme heat. Hay harvest continued with huge yields reported. Cattle remained in good condition, and market prices were steady.
Strong storms tore through several counties. Winds around 110 mph and higher were reported. Trees, power lines, fences and livestock structures were all heavily damaged. Power was knocked out for many residents. Gregg County reported producers were having to water livestock due to power outages. Record high temperatures were also an issue. Hay production continued in other areas of the district. Cattle markets remained strong. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Weed control was underway.
Crops were in good to excellent condition across much of the district with over 5 inches of rain reported from the previous week. Farmers who planted cotton early have a good stand, and those who planted later were making good progress with growing conditions. Corn looked good across most of the district. Farmers were planting pumpkins. Grazing conditions continued to improve with the recent rains.
Most counties in the Panhandle reported adequate subsoil moisture, with some reporting a surplus of topsoil moisture. The overall condition of pasture and rangeland was fair to excellent. Overall crops were reported fair to good. Producers started to harvest small grain silage crops with reports of 15-25 tons per acre. The wheat grain harvest should begin in the next few weeks. Grain and silage sorghum fields were still being planted. Producers completed peanut planting, and fields were in good condition with plenty of moisture to start. Much of the planted cotton was lost to heavy rains received earlier, and the planting window closed. Most lost cotton was expected to be planted with sorghum. Corn and pastures responded well to the recent rains. Pasture and rangeland condition completely reversed over recent weeks. Grasses and forages looked excellent, and livestock were in good condition. Supplemental feeding was only taking place on a small scale. Producers were busy cutting and baling hay.
Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels were adequate to surplus for most of the counties. Pasture and rangeland were in fair to good condition. Some counties received significant rains including scattered thunderstorms with hail, damaging winds and flooding. Some counties were dealing with power outages, downed trees and some crop damage. Wheat, corn, grain sorghum and soybeans looked good. The pasture conditions should improve. Winter wheat was being harvested. Hay was being cut and baled up in some areas. Insect and disease populations were on the rise. Foliar fungicides were being sprayed. Livestock conditions were good and continuing to improve.
Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels were declining. Extremely high temperatures impacted all crops and pastures over recent weeks. A summertime heatwave hit the Big Bend region with highs in the 90s in the higher elevations and around 100 degrees along the river. Daytime temperatures were in the 100s across the district with nighttime lows in the 70s. Skies were overcast but no rain was reported. Dryland crops were suffering. Most cotton was in the four to five true-leaf stage with the late-planted fields at cotyledon to first true-leaf stage. Corn was pollinating, and pollination suffered under high temperatures. Sorghum was close to the boot stage. Watermelons and cantaloupes were making progress. Pastures were drying out. Brush was a major issue, and producers were working on brush control. Most cotton farmers planted after beneficial rains improved growing conditions, but young plants will need rain soon. More rainfall was in the forecast. Livestock were in fair condition, and producers began shipping lambs. Pecan orchards looked good. Alfalfa fields were in good condition as well. Many producers planted Sudan grass. Weeds continued to be an issue.
Scattered showers were reported early in the week, but conditions were mostly dry, hot and humid. Forecasts called for temperatures at or above 100 degrees over the coming weeks. High temperatures were drying the soil profile out quickly. Producers were cutting and baling hay, but conditions were very humid. Wheat fields were being harvested for grain with reports of 30-55 bushels per acre. Some wheat fields were plowed. Cotton planting was in full swing, and some fields were emerging. Some cotton was replanted due to storm damage. Corn and sorghum were doing well following rains. High temperatures were starting to stress some sorghum fields. Pecan growers were still expecting good yields. Rangeland and pasture conditions continued to improve, but many areas were still recovering. Weed pressure was heavy in pastures. Cattle and livestock looked good. Stocker cattle prices were down some while feeder prices were up. Stock tanks needed more water but were in much better condition.
Conditions were mostly dry, hot and humid with high temperatures in the forecast. Soil moisture levels were good. Standing water in fields and ditches was reported in some areas. Temperatures were into the triple-digits, and some small, scattered rain was reported. Rangeland and pasture conditions were very poor to excellent. Bermuda and Bahia grass stands were doing very well with soil moisture and temperatures getting warmer. Most of the winter forage was grazed down or baled up for the first cutting of hay. Hay production was in high gear, and some producers were making a second cutting. Producers were spraying herbicides to control weed pressure. The increased temperatures were helping the cotton crop progress. Producers reported increased grasshopper and fly numbers. There were also reports of Bermuda grass stem maggot, but producers were watching for any damaging pests in hayfields.
Little measurable precipitation was reported. Conditions were hot and humid, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees and heat indexes beyond 110 degrees. The high temperatures were expected to deplete soil moisture levels from recent rains. The lack of subsoil moisture was becoming evident as crops that just received good rainfall were beginning to show moisture and heat stress. Pasture and rangeland conditions were declining and showing some signs of heat stress. Most corn, sorghum and cotton looked good. Hay was being made. Livestock were in fair to good condition, and markets were holding high. Wildlife were in good shape, but fawn survival numbers were a concern due to the hot temperatures.
Soil moisture levels were declining. Grain sorghum was maturing quickly, and many farmers were harvesting. Chili thrips, tarnished plant bugs, fleahoppers and whiteflies were in cotton, and sprayed fields were showing good control. Early planted cotton was blooming. Peanut planting continued. Early planted peanuts were in the pegging stage. Corn was maturing and starting to dent. Citrus and sugarcane fields were starting to be irrigated once again. Citrus trees had young fruit developing. Watermelons and cantaloupes continued to produce. Irrigation was increasing in crops due to high temperatures. Hay producers were cutting and baling hay grazer and Bermuda grass fields and following with fertilizer and irrigation. Hay bale yields were good so far. Pastures were deteriorating quickly due to the intense heat. Ranchers and deer producers were feeding and providing water for cattle and wildlife. Livestock were in good condition. Feed prices were high. Beef cattle producers reported good forage supplies in rangeland and pastures. Local markets were back to average sale volumes with strong prices being offered for all classes of beef cattle. Quail were still in mating season. Turkey poults were out in the fields, and white-tailed deer bucks were now in velvet. Coveys of bobwhite quail were spotted and reported on a regular basis.
Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, AgriLife Today
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