Growers in areas particularly hit by drought have a few chores to conduct as they prepare for the 2013 growing season and possibly more dry weather, suggests Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin Extension forage specialist.

The southern part of his state, like many other regions of the country, saw reduced alfalfa stands and shriveled cornfields during the past droughty year. And the 2013 forecast at this point doesn’t look to be an improvement, according to weather experts.

To prepare for the coming growing season, growers should evaluate their alfalfa stands. Seedling stands hit by dry weather may be especially vulnerable, Undersander says. “If they get stunted in the seeding year, they never really recover, so there is potential for some to be low-yielding fields.

“And, in some cases, we need to evaluate our grass stands, because we’ve lost portions of our grass pastures.”

To increase early season yield, Undersander recommends interseeding another crop with alfalfa. “If we’ve lost some stands or taken some fields out, the best way to get tonnage early is oats. Ryegrass does a pretty good job, too.”

Limited forage supplies should encourage more growers to invest in fertilizer – particularly sulfur and potassium, but also check phosphorus levels, Undersander says. Growers should fertilize after first cutting unless they didn’t fertilize last fall; then an early spring application is recommended.

Maximize pasture, too. Fertilize and allocate forage wisely. “Rotational grazing is good, but you don’t have to get all carried away. Get some temporary fencing and a few posts,” he says.

“In our good rotational grazing systems, our improved feed efficiency is about 70%. That’s about what it is when we make hay and haylage; by the time you take your respiratory losses into account, your harvesting losses, ensiling and storage losses, you’re dealing with about 70% efficiency.

“When we allocate paddocks we get up to 65-70% and if we just let animals out over a whole area, we’re probably down about 35-40%,” Undersander says.