Drought will likely impact spring forage development

Due to the drought the region has been experiencing, spring forage development will likely be impacted.

cows on cover crops ndsu.jpg
Due to the dry conditions the region has been seeing, producers can expect to see a delay in forage production this spring. (NDSU photo)
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Due to the steady drought-like weather the region has been seeing as of late, producers should expect their grass development to be delayed and slower than a normal year.

The dominant grasses in North Dakota are that of cool-season grasses. These particular grasses have a tiller that initiates its growth. Due to the drought the region experienced in the fall of last year, tillers died, therefore, setting back plant development this spring season.

“We can expect that it could be as much as a month long delay in grass development because of the tillers dying,” Miranda Meehan, A North Dakota State University Extension livestock and environmental stewardship specialist, said.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor on March 25, all of North Dakota and South Dakota were in either abnormally dry or drought conditions. More than a quarter of North Dakota was considered in extreme drought. Montana and Minnesota also have large chunks of land in abnormally dry or drought conditions, while a portion of northwestern Iowa also has experienced drought.

According to Meehan, the region can expect to see a large reduction percentage in overall forage production.


“We should be expecting at least a 20 to 25% reduction in forage production in 2021, and that is with assuming we have normal precipitation this spring. So, it is probably going to be even greater than that,” Meehan said.

Following a sound grazing plan will be crucial for farmers and ranchers to follow. It is crucial that the fields of forage not be grazed too early, as that could further damage the forage’s growth and make the process even slower.

“This reduction will be even greater if pastures are grazed too early, reducing leaf area and the plants’ ability to capture sunlight,” said Extension rangeland management specialist Kevin Sedivec. “Grazing too early will reduce plant vigor, thin existing stands, lower total forage production, and increase disease, insect and weed infestations. Pastures and range damaged by grazing too early may take several years of deferment or even rest before the stand regains productivity.”

There are also other alternatives to grazing, such as continuing to feed livestock for a couple weeks longer. According to South Dakota University Extension, by feeding the livestock for a little longer, the grass will have more time to properly grow and mature before allowing the livestock to graze upon it.

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