MO pasture and forage

Dry conditions this fall have limited fall forage growth and stockpiling. 

Dry weather for the early part of fall made for good harvest progress, although it has presented some challenges and limited forage growth in parts of the Midwest.

Eldon Cole, a University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist in southwest Missouri’s Lawrence County, says normally fall is a time with a lot of grazing and stockpiling of forage ahead of winter, although the lack of rain in the area has limited that.

“We just have had no fall growth,” he says. “Anybody that planted fall wheat or rye for fall grazing just hasn’t seen any growth.”

On the upside, it was a big summer for putting up hay in his area.

“Luckily, we did have people who put up a good bit of hay,” Cole says.

He says fescue pastures see some productive growth as temperatures start cooling down in the fall, providing an opportunity for stockpiling or a “safety valve” to graze while taking pressure off other pastures and giving them some rest.

“During September, it would normally give you some pretty good time to let your fescue pastures start stockpiling,” Cole says.

When pastures get grazed down too low during dry times, even a return of rainfall can take longer to produce forage or not make as much of a difference until the overgrazed plants have time to recover.

Cole says producers have options when dealing with dry conditions and a lack of fall forage growth, including culling cows, not keeping steers as long and adjusting feed options.

“They’re probably going to be looking for supplemental feed to help stretch them along,” he says.

Usually, Cole says producers in his area can use stockpiled forage and hold off on feeding hay until December or January, although this year many producers had started feeding hay by early October.

“We did put up a lot of hay,” he says. “It’s maybe not the greatest hay in the world, but there’s a lot of hay.”

For producers in areas that were not able to put up as much hay this year, Cole says they have to consider their options and their bottom line. Buying hay doesn’t always pencil out, but some producers might still view it as the best choice to keep their herds intact.

“Buying hay is not always the best proposition,” he says, “but you weigh the alternatives and buy some if you need and can.”

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor map released Oct. 22, just over half of Missouri was either abnormally dry or in drought, with a corner of extreme drought in southwest Missouri. Overall, 71.37% of Missouri was abnormally dry or in drought, with 7.33% in severe drought and 3.08% in extreme drought.

Western Iowa has struggled with drought for much of the year, and in the Oct. 22 map 80.8% of Iowa was abnormally dry or in drought. The state was 47.35% in drought, 34.98% in severe drought, and 4.48% in extreme drought.

Illinois was 61.08% abnormally dry or in drought, with 18.88% of the state in official drought status and 1.86% in severe drought, with the drought areas focused in fertile central Illinois.

The dry weather has also had some impact for row-crop farmers, with some longtime farmers saying they have never seen it this dry in October, normally a fairly rainy month in the Midwest.

Joe Meadows, who farms in Barton and Vernon counties in southwest Missouri, says farmers in his area were hoping for rainfall in mid-October.

“Soybean harvest is in full swing, but insanely low moisture contents have most preferring a rain instead of continuing harvest under these conditions,” he says.

Dirk Diehl, who farms in Bates County in west central Missouri, said soybean moisture had dipped to 8 or 9%, although it looked like rain was on the way.

Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.