Drought management crucial to vegetation health

The drought conditions last year and the mild winter with less than average precipitation has left those involved...

The drought conditions last year and the mild winter with less than average precipitation has left those involved in the agricultural industry with many reasons to be concerned moving into this year’s seeding and growing season.

Leduc County, along with West Central Forage Association, offered a seminar in Thorsby on April 19 to address drought management practices that will help ease the impacts of what could possibly shape into another dry summer.

Keynote speaker Edward Bork, range ecology and management, University of Alberta, spoke to those who attended the seminar on what farmers should do at the present time to protect their land and what they should do the season prior in preparation.

Bork says more intensive grazing during droughts puts more stress on the grasses, which not only leads to defoliation but impedes root growth.

As part of an Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) study, Bork and his team concluded over-grazing damages root lengths; and so drought management should be kept to moderate-to-low stocking practices.

“Drought impacts plants, well… this is not surprising,” said Bork. “If you had a dry year last year your plants are already stressed going into this year.”

“Risk mitigation should be an ongoing process,” he added.

Results are a smaller root mass and shallower roots. If cattle are let out to the grasslands to graze before the plants and the roots are ready the growth of the plants could peak at only 30 to 40 per cent of the total potential yield.

Through the study, which included up to 114 grassland management sites across several provinces, Bork was to examine the effects of moisture deprivation. In Alberta,with a 50 per cent moisture reduction there was a 43 per cent yield loss. In Saskatchewan there was no change and Manitoba lost 20 per cent.

“So one of the questions we have now in Alberta is how representative is this (negative) 43 per cent? Is that kind of representative? Is it on the high end, is it on the low end? So we have a new study where we’re trying to get a better handle on how this varies regionally across the province and this will be a very appropriate year to start testing this,” said Bork.

 

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