Community Agriculture Alliance: Protect your fields during drought

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— Rain. It’s what every farmer or rancher prays for after they get their hay up. Last year, Routt County experienced one of worst drought years on record, and although decent winter snowfall is helping us make it through the year, we are not out of the woods. Fortunately, Routt County farmers and ranchers are much better off than those in southern and eastern Colorado, where pastures look like deserts.

The lack of rain brings other dangers.

Fire restrictions for the county were enacted last week with good reason, and although we are starting to get afternoon and evening rain showers in parts of the county, they bring both a blessing and a danger. I love a good lightning and rain storm, but every time I see lightning or hear thunder crash, I cringe. The dryness of our vegetation is perfect fire tinder right now. So watch these storms, and if you see fire or smoke, call your local fire department right away. You can reach the Routt County Communications department at 970-879-1110.

I also am seeing more grasshoppers, which is not surprising because their population cycle follows drought. Make sure that you get out on your ground and monitor the grasshoppers. There are pesticides that are effective in killing grasshoppers and controlling the population cycle, but timing is everything. If you wait until they are too old, they already will have laid their eggs, and the spray will control the current population but won’t help you with next year’s population. For more information about the pesticide, call the Routt County Extension Office at 970-879-0825.

After surviving another summer of drought, there are a few things you can do to better prepare yourself for next year.

For starters, make sure you control your noxious weeds. Weeds rob grasses of nutrients and water, so the fewer weeds you have, the healthier your pastures will be. Fertilize in the spring to help your grass get a head start.

One of the easiest things to do is straight disc your pasture or hay fields after harvest by straightening out the discs and slicing through the vegetation about 4 inches deep. This will allow all of the moisture that we get this winter to sink into your plants, and it invigorates the roots. It’s common for fields to become sod bound and unhealthy. Cutting the roots tells the plants to start growing again.

You also can interseed your pastures or hayfields with alfalfa or clover to help give the stand access to more nutrients. This is effective in late fall, a dormant seeding, or early spring. In drought years, it is better to seed in the late fall than the early spring to give the seedling access to as much moisture as possible in the spring.

These are just a few things that you can do to help survive the ongoing drought. For more information, call 970-879-3225, ext. 3. We are here to help, and our services always are free. Have a great summer!

Lori Jazwick is a Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist for the Steamboat Field Office.

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