The dry weather is seriously inhibiting growth of all plant life in the area, including crops (corn and soybean), lawns, gardens, pasture and hay and ornamental plants. Nothing is immune to the dryness, and some annual plants (such as corn) are falling victim to the dry conditions.
Most plants will survive but can be damaged to varying degrees.
If you're choosing to provide supplemental water for ornamental plants, we've talked about the correct methods of watering (water to moisten soil deeply, so use a soaker hose or sprinkler). It does little if you're standing by the plant holding a hose and watering. Moisture needs to migrate deep into the soil profile (6-12 inches) to energize roots, so watering once per week but watering deeply is necessary in times like this.
Perennial plants have amazing abilities to survive stressful conditions and will amend their normal processes to ensure they're around for the next year. For instance, they might go dormant, reduce fruit or flower load or close up cells to reduce water loss. Annual plants have far fewer options for dealing with dryness. They can eliminate some leaves or reduce fruit/flower load or reduce cell activity, but they don't have all the options of perennial plants.
We're beginning to see the effects of low moisture in some areas -- dying corn plants for instance. And within the past two weeks we can notice soybean plants wilting on clay hillsides or other areas that inhibit roots. We all know August rainfall is critical for soybean yields. And there just isn't any soil moisture available right now to fill pods.
Pasture plants are not dealing very well with these dry conditions. There just isn't soil moisture available for growth, so they've essentially gone dormant. Producer options are limited, but some are feeding hay or close to it. Don't grub pastures down to the ground. When we do get rain, those plants will take much longer to recover. Leave 4 inches or more of grass.
There are other options to improve pasture conditions, and we'll be discussing those at our next pasture walk, scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 6 at the Gary Farlow farm near Fowler. Gary has a new hoop structure provided with EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) and also recently completed a Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) project (fencing, water lines, stream bank crossings and pasture renovation).
To reach the farm from Interstate 172, travel east on U.S. 24 for approximately three miles to Fowler. Turn south on road 1700 on the east edge of Fowler, cross the tracks and head east one-half mile to the hoop building.
It's imperative that pastures not be overgrazed during this drought. Doing so will only lead to reduced future growth. Concentrate on alternatives, such as feeding byproducts, grazing stalks when they become available, utilizing a sacrifice pasture area and feed hay, investigating a MIG system, weaning calves early, or overseeding small seeded crops into standing corn. All these options will be discussed at the pasture walk.
Another pasture walk opportunity will be available 5-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, near Macomb at the Trevor Toland farm. Reservations are requested at (309) 769-5293.
Another educational opportunity for cattle producers is the Orr Beef Center Field Day, scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 31, beginning at 4 p.m. Topics include winter feeding strategies, cow nutrition/calf growth, coproduct feeding effects on calf performance and more. A meal will be served at 6 p.m. The program will be held at the JWCC classrooms. Tours of the beef farm will be offered.