The weather has been a wonderful reprieve this winter, allowing for much more outdoor work and activity.
However, there is concern that the ongoing dry, mild conditions could lead to drought. The conversion that many area farmers made to no till management over the last three decades has allowed for better water management and increased resilience across many of our farm acres. However drought still takes its toll and one of the biggest hits is usually grassland areas that ranchers rely on to feed their livestock each summer.
I recently listened to Stan Boltz, NRCS Soil Health Specialist, discuss grassland resilience and managing grasses for drought. Stan shared that management practices on pasture areas can really have an impact, not just during the dry period but also on grass recovery after drought.
Water infiltration is one of the best indicators of soil health. During these dry conditions it is important that any precipitation received goes into the soil vs. running off. Water infiltration on soils where perennial grasses are grown should be equal or better than infiltration in cropland areas but, but it is also can improve with management that promotes higher populations of native species. Nonnative, invasive species like Kentucky blue grass and Smooth brome grass will reduce the water infiltration capacity of pastures if they are allowed to take over. This is a concern, especially as these species are becoming increasingly prevalent across central and western parts of the state.
Rotational grazing or systems that promote proper utilization and stocking rates, allow for adequate recovery between grazing periods and utilize the pasture at different times each growing season, can help to reduce unwanted species such as those listed above. Research has shown that native grass species, and species diversity in grasslands, encourages higher levels of beneficial fungi (AMF). Higher levels of these native AMF has been directly correlated with healthy grasslands, grasslands that exhibit more resilience, and grasslands that recover better after drought.
Stan also stressed the importance of not overgrazing areas. “It takes leaves to make leaves”. When leaf removal rates are at or over 50%, grasses are not able to grow as many roots. Each year grasses replace 50% of their roots. This is normal. Clipping species too short and reducing leaf area makes it very hard for the grasses to accomplish root replacement.
With a dry summer looming, the old saying that “the best time to incorporate some of these practices was 20 years ago, but the next best time is today” may have a fit. For more information you can view the Stan Boltz’s presentation at www.sdnotill.com. It will be posted in February along with other presentations covering no till, soil health and diversity.