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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Rangeland and Pasture Research

Title: Drought and pasture management

item Springer, Timothy

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/7/2012
Publication Date: 3/20/2012
Citation: Springer, T.L. 2012. Drought and pasture management. SW Research and Extension Center Field Day, Hope, AR. 3/20/12.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Drought is a common feature of every landscape and can last from a few months to several years. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), droughts are the most costly natural hazard affecting the United States costing 6 to 8 billion dollars annually. Mitigating the impacts of drought through planning and preparedness could save billions of dollars. When drought and over-stocking are combined, several things can and possibly will happen to the pasture plant community. First, the biomass of plant root systems are reduced as roots die. This leads to a loss of carbon from the root zone. Second, the biomass of the shoot system is reduced because of limited water supply. Third, plants that are not drought tolerant will die. And fourth, plants that are drought tolerant will increase in number. Pasture damage due to drought can be assessed using a frequency grid. A slightly damaged pasture may have a stand loss of less than 30%. A moderately damaged pasture may have a stand loss between 30 and 60%. And, a severely damaged pasture may have a stand loss of greater than 60%. However, it should be noted that these percentages may vary depending upon the pasture plant species (i.e., bermudagrass, tall fescue, etc.). Pastures with less than 60% damage should recover with proper weed management, soil fertilization, and grazing management. Pastures with greater than 60% damage should also recover with proper weed management, soil fertilization, and grazing management, however, a great deal of patience is required. Pastures with greater than 60% damage also hold additional opportunities. Severely damaged pastures could be replaced with monocultures or polycultures of newer cultivars; however, the cost of replacement would need to be considered and is estimated to vary from $100 to $250 per acre. It is also important to maintain stocking rates at moderate to low intensity during drought to maintain ground cover and enhance plant vigor. Research from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, Southern Plains Range Research Station in Woodward, Oklahoma has shown that moderate stocking during droughts makes the cattle enterprises more profitable, and once the drought ends and the pasture enters recovery, moderate stocking rates also allow perennial grasses to recover more quickly and compete with undesirable grass and weeds that will attempt to invade pastures.

Last Modified: 06/22/2017
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