Hay and forage producers in the South are still trying to sort out the results of the recent cold snap that hit much of the country during Easter weekend. The damage is especially significant because forage growth was ahead of schedule in many areas prior to the onset of freezing temperatures.
Kentucky was hit hard. "We've never seen anything like this before when seven weeks of above-normal temperatures caused so much growth and then were followed by four days of record-setting low temperatures," says Garry Lacefield, University of Kentucky extension forage specialist. "It got down to 19 degrees at the Princeton, KY, research station on April 8 and in the high teens and low 20s throughout the state." As of last week, Kentucky hay growers were waiting for warmer, drier weather to get a better handle on the situation. Initial reports range from minimal damage to some existing grass stands to total burn-back and even flattened stands in some alfalfa and red clover fields.
"A lot of our red clover has turned black; however, the plant crown is still alive," says Lacefield.
White clover is buckled up and shows freeze damage on leaves, but most plants seem to be alive. Fescue and orchardgrass are only showing tip burning and probably weren't set back. Some ryegrasses were damaged, although ryegrass fields seem to be doing better than anticipated.
"We know that above-ground growth in our fields is severely compromised and going downhill every day," Lacefield notes. "We believe the crown buds are still intact and alive on our existing crops. There seems to have been little damage to the plants themselves and to their ability to grow in the future, and that is good news. A lot of alfalfa and clover were seeded this spring. All of our Roundup Ready alfalfa had to be seeded by March 30. We are still assessing damage to new seedings."
Many Kentucky fields had 12" or more of growth prior to the freeze, and some had as much as 20" of growth, according to Lacefield. When that much growth is killed, there is a danger of smothering existing crown buds if the dead growth can't be removed. "We've grazed some off and we've cut some off as haylage," Lacefield says. Haying was nearly impossible because of wet weather last week. "For every day we wait now, harvest is less of an option. We don't want to make a bad situation worse by going into a field that is damp and muddy and marking up the field. Some fields have reached a point where it's questionable whether equipment can be used for harvesting, even if temperatures and weather conditions cooperate."
There seems to be more hope for new seedings than initially expected, says Lacefield. He plans to continue assessing the damage this week.
Contact Lacefield at 270-365-7541, ext. 202.