Growers should be careful not to inflict further damage to drought-stressed forage plants, reminds Doo-Hong Min, Michigan State University Extension forage specialist. He suggests the following fall management tips for affected hayfields:
Give plants time. Stressed forage plants can be weak due to low root reserves. Give them time to store food reserves in the roots to overwinter and regrow next spring.
Cut smart. Most Michigan hayfields were harvested two to three times this year, depending on region. Harvest the last cutting after plants head or bloom rather than when in vegetative stages. That, again, helps plants store food reserves. Don’t fall-mow spring-seeded alfalfa or grasses affected by severe drought.
Cut high. In Michigan, it’s safer to leave 4-6” of hay stubble because of its varying snowfall. Especially in lower Michigan, cutting too short makes it hard to trap snow – important for alfalfa. If plants are about 10” tall, it may not be cost-effective to machine harvest.
Fertilize. Soil testing and fertilizing with potassium and phosphorus will help drought-stressed forage stands overwinter and regrow the next spring.