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 A Prism Business Media Publication May 2, 2006 |  
Managing Forages During Dry Times
Top of the News Spray RR Alfalfa Early
Insect Update Illinois Missouri Ohio
State Reports Illinois Minnesota Nebraska Texas
Events Clinic Focuses On Drought Feeding Challenges Calendar
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Managing Forages During Dry Times
The dry fall and winter have left lingering effects on Iowa's pastures, points out Dan Morrical, Iowa State University extension grazing specialist. He says there are several things producers can do now to improve forage conditions, and several that can be done if the drought continues.

Last fall's dry conditions mean that pastures will grow more slowly this spring. Morrical suggests that producers delay turnout. However, that's a hard decision because the drought has left producers short of hay as well.

Morrical lists several options for managing feed sources: Buy hay, use hay rings to reduce waste, feed corn, supplement with distiller's grains, and graze hayfields lightly, then move cows to permanent pastures.

To boost forage and hay production, Morrical recommends applying 50 lbs/acre of nitrogen. "The added nitrogen will result in 1 ton of extra yield per acre for a cost of only $25," he says. "That's about the cheapest feed you can buy."

He advises producers to take the time to assess stand vigor and density by looking for bare soil and early signs of weed encroachment. These problems can be solved with weed-control spraying this spring, and interseeding grasses and legumes at any time of the growing season. "Producers can interseed with a no-till drill, which may be rented from NRCS," he says.

If the dry conditions continue, summer annuals can add to forage production. Morrical recommends annuals like millet and sorghum-sudangrass hybrids. They can add a lot of yield during the summer grazing slump.

For more information, visit the Iowa State Drought Resource page at, or contact Morrical at 515-294-2904 or

Source: Iowa State University.

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Top of the News
Spray RR Alfalfa Early
By David Hillger and Jim Kells
Crop & Soil Sciences Department, Michigan State University

Establishing productive Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa stands requires close attention to details, especially when the plants are young. An early season application of glyphosate will significantly help alfalfa establishment in two ways. First, glyphosate will remove many of the weed seedlings competing with the new alfalfa seedlings for nutrients and space. By targeting weeds when they're small, excellent control can be expected for almost all weed species.

The second reason for an early application is to remove alfalfa seedlings that don't have the glyphosate-resistant trait. As new alfalfa stands mature, natural thinning takes place, which reduces the total number of alfalfa plants. Surviving plants fill empty spots in the crop canopy until a healthy, productive alfalfa stand is established. In a typical bag of RR alfalfa seed, a small portion of the seeds don't carry the glyphosate-resistant trait. They will germinate and grow into plants indistinguishable from the resistant plants. Applying glyphosate early removes the susceptible plants, leaving only the glyphosate-resistant plants. Delaying the application will increase the chance of non-resistant alfalfa plants becoming established in the stand. They'll suffer severe injury and/or death after the first glyphosate application, leaving an empty spot in the stand. These open areas will allow weeds to become established, possibly leading to reductions in yield and alfalfa quality.

Michigan State University recommends that producers in the state apply glyphosate at 0.75 lb active ingredient per acre before the fourth trifoliate growth stage to eliminate seedlings not containing the glyphosate-resistant gene. This practice encourages the development of a healthy population of RR alfalfa plants and prevents susceptible plants from becoming established.

Source: Michigan State University Field Crop Advisory Team Alert Newsletter.

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Insect Update
High numbers of cowpea aphids and pea aphids are being reported in some areas of Illinois. Robert Bellm, University of Illinois crop systems educator at Edwardsville, observed a heavily infested alfalfa field in which the plants were "covered in sooty mold and wilting." Although cowpea aphids have infested alfalfa stands in California for years, they have been reported less frequently in Midwestern fields.

Source: University of Illinois Crop and Pest Management Bulletin.

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Pea aphids are the most common of several aphid species found in Missouri alfalfa, according to Wayne Bailey, University of Missouri entomologist. Weather and beneficial insects are major factors affecting their numbers. Cool springs with moderate-to-high relative humidity often favor pea aphid population growth, whereas beneficial insects reduce pea aphid numbers most years.

Bailey says growers have been asking whether it's necessary to manage pea aphid infestations at this time in the season in Missouri. They're trying to determine whether to treat with an insecticide, harvest early or do nothing. He says it depends on the unique conditions that exist in each alfalfa field. "In several fields I scouted this past week, pea aphids were present but in numbers approaching or below the economic threshold," he reports. "Beneficial insects were relatively high in number, alfalfa weevil larvae were low in number due to the presence of the fungal pathogen, and most alfalfa stems were 10" or greater in height. Given these factors, an insecticide application for control of pea aphids would not be justified."

An exception might be if the alfalfa was under severe drought stress or showing symptoms of aphid feeding. Early harvest may be an appropriate management strategy for some fields, but it would reduce beneficial insect populations along with pea aphid numbers. Bailey emphasizes that each producer must assess his field conditions and determine an appropriate management strategy. Other aphids commonly collected from Missouri alfalfa fields include the cowpea aphid, spotted alfalfa aphid, and to a lesser extent, the blue alfalfa aphid.

Contact Bailey at 573-864-9905.

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Two weeks ago, Ohio State University entomologists mentioned that it was time to begin scouting for alfalfa weevils in southern and central Ohio. With the continued warm weather, they say the time has come to scout in northern Ohio as well. Although they have not yet heard of any need for insecticide applications, Ohio producers should be in alfalfa fields checking for possible problems. Fields should be scouted for weevils in all areas of the state, and weekly sampling should continue until at least the first harvest. Farther into May, when the alfalfa gets around 12-16" tall, consider an early harvest rather than spraying. When alfalfa is over 16", early cutting is recommended. Fields cut early because of alfalfa weevils should be checked to make sure surviving weevils don't prevent good regrowth.

Source: Ron Hammond and Bruce Eisley, Ohio Crop Observation and Recommendation Network newsletter.

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State Reports
The drought is officially over in Illinois, according to Jim Angel, state climatologist. In his latest Illinois drought update, he says that, while long-term precipitation deficits remain in northern and western Illinois, a wet start to 2006 has allowed for significant recovery in recent weeks.

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Alfalfa growth is at least 10 days ahead of normal in the state this spring, and if favorable conditions continue, first cutting could also be ahead of schedule, says Paul Peterson, University of Minnesota extension forage agronomist. "In general, fields are looking incredible," he states. "Some isolated areas are showing winter injury, particularly on south-facing slopes or hilltops. This injury could be related to plants not going fully dormant late last fall or beginning to come out of dormancy too early when we had warm weather in January." Ice storms in western Minnesota and eastern South Dakota caused ice build-up on some fields for as long as six weeks this winter. Peterson says that, fortunately, those fields don't seem to show the damage that was feared.

Kevin Nelson of Nelson Hay Company, Hadley, spent the past weekend promoting hay at the Minnesota Horse Expo. Horse hay customers seem to be more concerned about the economy this year and are watching their money a bit more closely, he says. About 35% of his hay is contracted ahead of time. Customers can contract at the in-season price and accept hay delivery soon after cutting. Clients wanting later deliveries pay more because storage fees are added to the price. Nelson requires a $20/ton down payment when setting up a contract.

Nelson believes in educating horse hay customers. He offers a one-page information sheet explaining why they should buy by weight rather than by the bale. He also maintains a Web site telling how his hay is produced. Customers are sent regular email newsletters throughout the year that provide updates on prices and growing conditions.

Because he delivers much of his hay with his own truck, Nelson has a fuel surcharge. It rises by 5 cents per mile for every 25-cent fuel price increase. He raises alfalfa-orchardgrass hay and pure alfalfa. First cutting is expected to be around May 25.

Visit the Nelson Hay Company Web site at, or call Nelson at 507-836-6818. Contact Paul Peterson at 612-625-3447 or email

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Many alfalfa fields were damaged during last week's freeze, according to Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska extension forage specialist. To assess the damage, he's telling producers to look beyond frozen or wilting leaves to determine whether the growing point was killed. Also called the apical meristem, the growing point is the initial development source of all new leaves, stems and branches on alfalfa. It's inside the dense cluster of unfolded leaves at the top of the main stem.

Because it's inside a cluster of leaves, the growing point is somewhat protected from cold injury. Exposed leaves and stems around it can be wilted and dying while the growing point cluster survives, waiting for warm weather before continuing to grow. If the growing point survived the freeze, he advises producers to wait for growth to begin again.

If it was killed, however, growth ceases on that stem. Any new growth must come from new shoots at the crown or from lower branches. While the existing plant remains intact, regrowth often is delayed, so cutting damaged plants will hasten recovery. "As some of you learned after last year's freeze, healthy fields will regrow quickly even following an early harvest," Anderson states. "While you can harvest early, you don't have to. Plants will begin to grow again on their own although it might take a little longer." Anderson suggests checking plants seven to 10 days after a freeze to truly see if the tops and growing point are dead or if recovery has begun. Then producers can decide whether to harvest or just wait for growth to renew naturally.

Source: Nebraska Crop Watch newsletter.

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Much-needed rain fell across parts of Texas within the last few weeks, offsetting record-breaking high temperatures and improving the outlook for crop and forage production, according to Texas Cooperative Extension. Up to 3.5" of rain was recorded in the state's rolling plains region, says Galen Chandler, district extension administrator in Vernon. "Pastures are showing signs of more green forage," he says. "However, stock water supplies remain low."

The southwestern part of the state continues to be dry. Last month, only about 0.06" of rain was recorded, says Cheryl Mapston, district extension administrator in Uvalde. The period from mid-October 2005 to date is the driest period on record with only about 1.5" of rain. "Unseasonably warm weather with afternoon temperatures averaging about 10 degrees above the typical average for this time of the year are aggravating the dry spell. Livestock herds have been thinned," Mapston adds.

Temperatures were above average most of last week in the Texas panhandle and supplemental livestock feeding continues. A mid-week cool front dropped temperatures to about normal for a couple days and triggered a few showers south of the panhandle. Rain amounts were generally less than 1/4", with isolated reports of 1/2-3/4". Windy and dry conditions continue to cause soil erosion and high wildfire danger. Land preparation for summer crops continues. Soil moisture is short to very short.

From 1/2" to 2" of rain fell last week in Texas' south plains, and supplemental feeding is on a limited basis. Soil moisture is very short to short.

Rains of less than 1/2" to 3 1/2" improved the outlook for spring forage production on the rolling plains. Temperatures were reaching the 90-degree mark. Several producers are preparing ground or planting sudan since the wheat crop was a failure. Supplemental feeding continues for some ranchers.

Soil moisture ranges from very short to adequate in northern Texas. In some areas, wheat and oats are strictly used for grazing, hay and silage. Rainfall varied from just over 1/2" to more than 2".

Record-setting temperatures and up to 4"of rain were reported in eastern Texas, with most counties receiving only slight amounts of rain. In drier areas, producers have not been able to fertilize warm-season pastures, which are beginning to be stressed. Winter pastures are declining quickly and pond water levels are getting low. Some producers have been able to make first cutting. Some livestock producers have gone back to supplemental feeding.

Soil moisture ranges from very short to adequate, and crops and pastures are in very poor to good condition in far western Texas. Very widely scattered showers fell in the region, which is still very hot.

Temperatures remained above average last week in west-central Texas. Conditions were very hot, dry and windy. Much-needed rainfall was reported in many areas, helping to bring down temperatures. Some areas continue to have problems with wildfires. No field activity was reported in areas that received rainfall.

Most areas received rain last week in central Texas, but more rain is needed. Pasture conditions remain poor and hay production will remain low.

Rain, too, is needed in southeastern Texas. Temperatures reached the mid- to upper 90s three days during the past week.

Forage availability is severely below average in southwestern Texas. Crops under dryland conditions are not making progress.

Hay supplies are still extremely low in the coastal bend region. Severe drought continues. Ranchers continue to cull and sell more of their herds.

Soil moisture remains short to very short throughout southern Texas. Round and square bale hay prices have significantly increased. Cattle are being culled.

Source: Texas A&M University.

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Clinic Focuses On Drought Feeding Challenges
Texas Cooperative Extension's Heart of Texas Cow/Calf Clinic will focus on feeding topics for cow/calf producers. The clinic is set for May 4 in the Brown County Fairgrounds Home Economics Building. The facility is located on U.S. Hwy. 377 S. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m.; the program starts at 9 a.m.

"Each year we work to produce a program that's practical for cattle raisers," says Scott Anderson, Brown County extension agent. "Cattle are still bringing good money, but trying to figure out what to feed them to keep them in good shape without losing all your profit to feed bills is becoming more interesting."

Individual registration is $10, and includes lunch. For more info, call 325-646-0386.

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**May 4 -- Beef Cattle and Forage Crops Field Day, Kansas State University Southeast Agricultural Research Center, Mound Valley. Contact Lyle Lomas at 620-421-4826, ext. 12; email him at; or visit

**May 9 -- University of California-Davis Alfalfa/Forage & Small Grains Field Day, UC-Davis Agronomy Farm Field Headquarters, Hutchison Road. Take Hutchison Road 1/3 mile west from Hwy. 113 near Davis and look for headquarters on left.

**May 25 -- University of Florida Corn Silage and Forage Field Day, Plant Science Unit, Citra. Contact Jerry Wasdin at 352-392-1120 or, or visit Under "Dairy Cattle," click on "Corn Silage Field Day."

**June 14-15 -- Four-State Dairy Nutrition and Management Conference, Grand River Center, Dubuque, IA. Call Dave Fischer, 618-692-9434 or Leo Timms, 515-294-4522.

**June 21 -- Intergenerational Transfer, New Swing 10 Parlor and Freestall Tour and Intensive Grazing Pasture Walk, Chris and Angie Neis Farm, 12433 Loran Road, Mt. Carroll, IL. Jim Morrison, University of Illinois Extension, will discuss pasture species renovation and fertility management. Contact Kevin Bernhardt, 608-342-1365 for more information.

**July 6-8 -- Missouri Dairy Grazing Conference, University of Missouri Southwest Research Center, Mt. Vernon, MO. Learn more about the conference and tours at Mail registration to Missouri Dairy Grazing Conference, University of Missouri Extension, 700 Main Street, Suite 4, Cassville, MO 65625 or call 417-847-3161.

**Sept. 7-9 -- National Hay Association 111th Annual Convention, Snow King Resort, Jackson Hole, WY. Call 800-707-0014 or visit

**Sept. 12 -- Kentucky Forage And Grassland Council Field Day, Dobbs Shady Meadow Farm, Campbell County. Learn more at

**Oct. 3-7 -- World Dairy Expo, Alliant Energy Center, Madison, WI. Learn more at

**Nov. 21 -- Kentucky Grazing Conference, Fayette County Extension Office, Lexington. Learn more at

**Dec. 11-13 -- Western Alfalfa & Forage Conference, Reno, NV. For more information, contact Dan Putnam at 530-752-8982 or, or Glenn Shewmaker at 208-736-3608 or

** Jan. 18-19 -- Southwest Hay Conference, Ruidoso Convention Center, Ruidoso, New Mexico. For more info, contact Doug Whitney at, or call Gina Sterrett at 505-626-5677.

**Jan. 24-25 -- Heart of America Grazing Conference, Holiday Inn, Mount Vernon, IL. Learn more from Garry Lacefield at 270-365-7541, ext. 202, or

**Feb. 27 -- Kentucky Alfalfa Conference, Cave City Convention Center. Learn more at

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Comments from Readers
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Lora Berg, Editor, eHay Weekly,

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