pasture growth

Warmer weather in the forecast should help boost pasture growth after a slow start this spring.

Cool and cloudy days have slowed grass growth in Midwest pastures and hay fields this spring.

An unusually dry late April and early May allowed grain farmers to finish planting in a timely fashion, but since then, temperatures have dropped and many areas have seen heavy rainfall.

“Our biggest concern right now is hay and pasture growth” says Rebecca Vittetoe, Iowa State University Extension agronomist in Washington, Iowa. “For some of it, it could be a case of having to graze it a little harder last year because it was dry. Lack of rain earlier this spring could also be contributing to the slow growth.

“I think some producers are anxious about it because we’re usually not short of grass at this time of year.”

Warmer weather in the forecast should help boost pasture growth, she says. But a frost the second weekend of May likely nipped some emerging alfalfa.

“North of Interstate 80, you probably have more than we did in southeast Iowa,” Vittetoe says. “We’ve received some calls about frosted alfalfa stands.”

It may be getting late to seed alfalfa, she says. A lengthy dry spell would reduce chances of those seeds taking root. However, Vittetoe says existing alfalfa stands should have time to recover.

Iowa State University has developed what is called the PEAQ (Predictive Equations for Alfalfa Quality) system to help determine when to take the first cutting of alfalfa. More information may be found online at

The lack of growth could knife into first-cutting hay volume, says Erika Lundy, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist in Greenfield, Iowa.

“The concern with producers is that we will have lighter production,” she says. “If we look at the 10-day forecast today (May 19), there are not a lot of opportunities to go out and make dry hay.”

Lundy says most producers will be sending cow-calf pairs out onto grass, but with the slow growth this spring, additional feedstuffs may be needed.

“Normally you aren’t worried about it at this time of year, but it has been so slow in getting started,” she says. “A lot of pastures in southwest Iowa really aren’t doing anything yet.”

The USDA estimates hay production to increase by 18% in Iowa this year.

“We’ve had two years of dry weather, and there hasn’t been a lot of profit in corn and soybeans,” Lundy says. “So people are trying something else.”

She adds some sunshine would accelerate pasture growth.

“We need to see the sun and have some heat,” Lundy says. “If we get some moisture too, we can make up a lot of time pretty quickly.”

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.