Speaker offers tips for facing forage consequences of dry 2016

AFP Correspondent

BLACKSBURG, Va. (Feb. 7, 2017) — Management practices in pastureland during problem years can have lasting impacts on future grazing, Dr. John Fike told farmers at the recent Virginia Shepherds Symposium.
Throughout his presentation, he stressed the importance of management.
However, near the close, he brought up the possible consequences for pastures this year from dry weather late in last year’s growing season.
The member of Virginia Tech’s Department of Crops and Soil Environmental Sciences, Fisk predicted that the troubles from last year’s dry spell may not be over and offered some suggestions for dealing with them.
“These producers are likely to see low forage growth and more weed pressure in 2017 as a result of management decisions in 2016,” he said.
Fike outlined the importance of soil testing and improving fertility of soils in his talk, pointing to soil testing as a management tool. Another tool he discussed is rotational grazing and the ways it can help graziers.
“Along with these benefits,” he said, “rotational stocking allows managers flexibility for dealing with difficulties such as dry spells. Many managers in Southwest Virginia found themselves without forage this past summer due to a prolonged dry spell.
“At some point, it becomes appropriate to keep animals only in a sacrifice lot and feed hay rather than overgrazing the whole farm and setting all the forages back,” he said. “By allowing pastures to rest during drought, recovery will be faster following rainfall. As well, the system will be better able to capture rain that comes in short, heavy summer showers, if there is grass on the surface to slow and channel the droplets to the soil and roots in the soil to take up the moisture.”
Fike drew from the work of the late Roy Blazer, a pioneer in the studies of soil and forages at Virginia Tech, to explain how poor soil fertility can arise from repeated overgrazing.
“Overgrazing limits the ability of soils to absorb moisture,” Fike said. “It also limits plants rooting, meaning plants have difficulty acquiring moisture and nutrients. This limits pasture growth and often results in open, exposed soils, which become sites for weeds or undesirable forages. With repeated overgrazing over time, exposed soils are prone to soil and soil nutrient loss through nutrient erosion. Mismanagement in this case puts the system in a downward spiral. Overgrazing due to poor forage production in turn limits forages growth. This encourages encroachment and exposes soils; The resulting reduced forage production sets up the system to be overgrazed again.”
He added using a new cycle or rotation for controlling the frequency and intensity of defoliation in pasture systems as a way to manage for both the desired forages and productivity.