April 12, 2016 08:00 AM

Central/Southern California, Missouri, Georgia

Dan Putnam

Forage extension specialist
University of California-Davis

with additional contributions by:

Nick Clark
Extension farm adviser, Hanford, Calif.

Oli Bachie
Extension farm adviser, Holtville, Calif.

The low deserts of California near Mexico and Arizona are on their second or third cutting of alfalfa, with weather in the 80°F to 90°F range. These early desert cuttings typically fetch higher prices, and much of this harvest is trucked into the many dairy sheds of the southern San Joaquin Valley or for premium exports through Long Beach. Aphid damage has again been observed in the low desert regions, but seemingly not as severe as in previous years.

The southern San Joaquin Valley has nearly completed its first cutting of alfalfa and beginning to harvest some of the early small grain forage (wheat, barley, and triticale) for silage. This is a key crop rotation with corn or sorghum (double cropped) for the areas nearby the dairy facilities. Those that haven’t cut yet ran up against a chance of rain last Friday through today, but a period of dry, warm weather is expected for the middle of the week.

The Sacramento Valley received rainfall in mid-March but has a clear window for harvest in early April; many of the alfalfa fields have been swathed and are experiencing 70°F to 80°F weather for curing. Although prices for premium alfalfa remain respectable in the key dairy areas ($210 to $270 per ton), lower quality alfalfa hay prices continue to be on the skids (about $150 per ton). Dairies continue to be challenged economically with low milk prices. Export volumes for alfalfa have picked up compared with one year ago, partly due to lower prices.

The El Niño year has brought much appreciated rainfall to California, in the “normal” range, filling some of the northern reservoirs and providing an excellent northern snowpack. Most of California is still classified as in “Exceptional Drought” by U.S. officials, and allocations of water are still only 10 percent in some San Joaquin Valley areas (up from zero last year). The continued depletion of groundwater in the southern San Joaquin Valley, which has taken place over the past 30 years (exacerbated by the rapid expansion of tree crops), is a long-term worry for agriculture in those areas.

Craig Roberts
Forage extension specialist
University of Missouri – Columbia

Missouri grasses are thickening up this month well after an unusual fall in 2015; farmers here are breathing a grateful sigh of relief. September and October 2015 were the driest in over 50 years. View the summary. As a result, new plantings were nearly declared stand failures. The drought prevented germination, and the killing frost was just around the corner. Grass farmers were on the verge of giving up on the new plantings and no-tilling wheat for a winter cover crop. In some cases, losses from failed plantings would have exceeded $120 per acre, the cost of novel endophyte tall fescue seed, two sprays of glyphosate, and land out of production.

But the September-October drought was followed by the wettest November and mildest December on record. Grass finally germinated after being in the ground since late August. Seedlings emerged in early November and enjoyed an abnormally long period of ideal growing conditions.

This spring, those new seedlings have broken dormancy and established thick stands. Temperature and precipitation for March have been favorable, so dry matter production is ahead of normal. Cattlemen in northern Missouri have turned cattle out at least two weeks early this year.

Many grass farmers who planted novel endophyte tall fescue last fall have topdressed fields with nitrogen fertilizer in March. They will either cut hay or lightly graze those acres. Some of these farmers are sampling their other fescue fields for toxic endophyte, sending tillers to the Agrinostics lab in Georgia. Endophyte sampling will continue through April and early May.

Dennis Hancock
Forage extension specialist
University of Georgia – Athens

After a wet but mild winter, most cool season annual forage crops have been strong this spring. Annual ryegrass harvest is nearing completion on most farms in south Georgia, though rains on April Fools' Day played a trick on many producers, keeping them out of the field. Further harvest delays in that state will challenge forage quality.

Of the winter annuals to be harvested for silage or baleage in north Georgia, about 40 percent are complete and most crops are advancing past the late vegetative or boot stage. Sunshine and windy conditions through the later part of last week have helped harvest progress across the state. Bermudagrass has emerged from its winter slumber in most areas, though cool nighttime temperatures and a surprise frost have bit back its progress.

Spring nitrogen and potassium applications are being made throughout the state on our bermudagrass pastures and hayfields. Tall fescue productivity in the North seems to be fairing quite well. Heavy rains through the winter have posed a challenge, but spring nitrogen applications to fescue are likely to return excellent yields. Producers across the state are bracing for heavy insect pressure, since we had mild temperatures throughout most of the winter.