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Plan for Drought's Effects in 2007

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Posted Dec. 1, 2006

December is a slow month in the soils and crops discipline. That makes it a good time for assessing the past year and planning for the future. It doesn't take long to assess 2006 from a standpoint of growing plants, because there's almost nothing good to say. Severe drought made it one of the worst years on record for pastures and crops in our area. Some of the effects of the drought will still be felt in 2007. I'll discuss what some of those might be.

  1. Pasture weeds will probably be bad in 2007. Weed seeds germinate much more readily where there is not a solid canopy of ground cover than they do where there is thick vegetation. The drought forced most cattle producers in southern Oklahoma and north-central Texas to overgraze, leading to either bare ground or very short grass going into the winter. This will probably lead to a much higher weed infestation than normal in spring 2007. You still need to scout your fields in the spring before you spray, but prepare yourself and budget for a herbicide application, since it likely will be needed.
  2. If we have a severe winter, pastures may suffer more winter kill this year than normal. We recommend leaving residual growth in pastures for several reasons. One reason is the insulation value the dormant grass provides to the soil. Since most of the pastures in this area have been grazed to the ground and have very little dormant grass, cold will penetrate deeper than it would if the residual height of the grass was at recommended levels. This could result in higher-than-average mortality of the perennial pasture grasses. If the winter kill is worse than normal, it will lead to even more weeds than normal in the spring and summer.
  3. There is one piece of good news from the drought if you applied nitrogen fertilizer during 2006, the odds are good that some of it is still there. Nitrogen is removed from the soil either through crop removal or intense rainfall. Both of these elements were lacking in 2006. The best way to determine if you have carryover nitrogen on introduced pasture forages is to collect a good soil sample. For best results, wait until near the time you would ordinarily apply fertilizer to collect the soil samples. To more accurately assess your carryover nitrogen amount, take samples from both the 0- to 6-inch and 6- to 12-inch levels.

While the forage situation looks very poor now, it's nothing that can't be cured by good rainfall, fertilizer on introduced pastures and herbicide, if needed. Hope and pray for large amounts of timely rainfall, and be ready to apply the fertilizer and herbicide when the time comes.