NCDA&CS advises to resist urge to fertilize during drought
In most years, August, September and October are prime months for fertilizing cool-season grasses, including hay and pasture crops. This year, however, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Agronomic Division is cautioning people to delay fertilization until drought conditions ease up significantly.
Applying fertilizer could not only be a waste of time and money, it could also be dangerous if grass is to be used in livestock production, warn NCDA&CS regional agronomists David Dycus and Bill Yarborough. “Nitrate poisoning of livestock is a real concern,” said Dycus.
Although homeowners do not need to worry about nitrate poisoning, they should also avoid fertilizing their lawns under drought conditions.
“Grasses, like fescue and orchardgrass, that are dormant during the summer will be slow to begin fall growth without sufficient moisture,” said Yarborough. “It is tempting to want to add fertilizer to hasten growth, but during drought conditions, fertilization will not produce a favorable growth response.
“In addition, fertilization can cause unusually high levels of nitrates to accumulate in forage crops,” Yarborough said. “High levels of nitrates can be fatal to cattle.”
To keep track of the drought status in your area, visit www.ncdrought.org. Currently, nearly three-fourths of the state is under severe or extreme drought.
“It will rain eventually, but rain doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the drought,” Dycus said. “Be aware that plants will still be under stress until moisture levels in the soil profile increase enough to meet daily crop needs.”
The agronomists stress that the most important precaution is to refrain from fertilizing while drought conditions continue. In addition, livestock owners should have all forages tested for nitrate levels. This free test is available from the NCDA&CS Food and Drug Protection Division. For information, call (919) 733-7366.
It is important that farmers report hay shortages to their local Cooperative Extension and U.S. Farm Service Agency offices. Accurate records of shortages will be needed to determine whether drought conditions constitute a disaster situation. Contact Cooperative Extension at www.ces.ncsu.edu and FSA at www.fsa.usda.gov.
The NCDA&CS Agronomic Division has 13 regional agronomists who give advice on crop nutrient issues. Visit www.ncagr.com/agronomi/rahome.htm or call the division office at (919) 733-2655 to contact the agronomist assigned to your county.