A dry September makes for fast harvest, thirsty fields in northeastern counties
By Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Sept. 29, 2017
- Many areas have gone about a month without substantial rainfall, speeding harvest but endangering forages
- Cattle producers may be faced with tough culling choices as winter approaches
- Producers advised to test hay, determine nutrient deficiencies
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RANDOLPH COUNTY, Ark. – One of the driest Septembers on record has been both a boon to grain farmers muscling their way through harvest and a burden to producers hoping to sock away forages for cattle herds, especially in the northeastern counties of Arkansas.
After a relatively rainy summer with below-average high temperatures, September has been almost devoid of rain for some areas of the state — the last county-wide rain for Randolph County, for example, having fell Aug. 31.
“It’s a double-edged sword here, when you’ve got two-thirds of the county that’s forages and livestock, and the other third is row crops,” said Mike Andrews, Randolph County Cooperative Extension Service staff chair. “You can’t wish for rain on one and not the other.”
Andrews said most or all of the corn in his county has been harvested, and rice appears soon to follow. The dry weather, and resultant dry soil, has meant harvest combines have been able to function in the fields without rutting in mud or clogging with wet crops. Nevertheless, the western two-thirds of Randolph County are covered in livestock pasture.
“The row croppers are enjoying harvesting in the dry weather,” Andrews said. “But we could sure use a good inch and a half of rain across the whole county.”
As of Friday, the Arkansas Forestry Commission classified the 25 eastern-most counties in Arkansas as “moderate wildfire risk,” and the state’s other 50 counties as “high wildfire risk.” Burn bans are in effect for 10 counties, most of which are in central Arkansas.
The agriculture of Sharp County, which lies directly to the west of Randolph, is almost entirely pasture land, excepting the production of watermelons, cantaloupes and other horticulture. Joe Moore, Sharp County Cooperative Extension Service staff chair, said the lack of rainfall will likely force many cattle producers into difficult choices.
“When August was over, the spigot was turned off, pretty much state-wide,” Moore said. “A lot of our farmers were trying to stockpile cool season forages, warm season forages, banking on that, a lot, in order to extend the grazing season, so they won’t have to feed as much hay.
“We’ve not had any measurable amount of rain in this county for 27 days, and as a result, farmers who were planning to overseed wheat, ryegrass, or any type of annual for winter grazing — they’ve been holding off on that until we get some rainfall,” he said. “And the longer you hold off, the less forage you’re going to accumulate for that grazing season.”
Moore said many growers will likely need to begin feeding their cattle hay far sooner than they’d hoped, and may ultimately need to cull their herds, rather than feed underperforming livestock through the winter.
“We’ll have some serious culling take place in our cow herds to overcome a rainfall deficit, if we don’t receive rainfall soon,” Moore said. “Then you start flooding the market with animals, and the price will take a nose dive, probably.”
John Jennings, forage specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said the current dry conditions are compounding a problem stemming from wet conditions through the summer, which actually prevented growers from cutting hay for optimal nutrient content.
“A lot of the hay that was harvested this year isn’t very good quality because of all the rain through the summer — that made it very difficult to harvest hay on schedule,” Jennings said. “So a lot of it was mature; there were a lot of weeds, problems like that.
“Now, when growers are planning to stockpile fescue or stockpile bermudagrass, or planting wheat or ryegrass early for fall pasture, it’s gotten so dry in September that we’re just not getting any forage growth,” he said. “If it stays dry like this, people will be feeding hay earlier than normal — very likely by mid- to late October.
“If we have a long, cold winter, cattle are going to come through it in pretty rough shape. If we have a fairly dry winter, and not too cold, we may squeak by,” he said.
Jennings said the best action cattle producers can take is to test their hay, in order to identify any nutrient deficiencies, and to supplement their cattle’s diets appropriately.
“They need to feed the better-quality lots of hay to animals that need higher quality, and segregate it that way as best they can,” Jennings said. “And look for good buys on supplemental feed, if they need it.”
To learn about grazing pastures in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.edu.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service