Drought conditions around the state were on the minds of most participants at the May 18 pasture renovation field day at the LSU AgCenter Southeast Research Station.

The consensus among participants was that they all need rain, and they need the water to stay on their land and not run off too quickly.

“We’ve had lots of complaints from farmers – and even observed here at the station –that the soil is more compacted. And when we do get rain, it runs off real rapidly,” said Mike McCormick, resident coordinator at the station.

Compaction is a problem not only for dairy farmers but also for beef and horse producers as well, McCormick said. Where there is animal traffic, there is a problem with soil compaction and the absorption of water.

“We just felt we needed to address this problem that many of us have let slide for the past few years so that we could get the maximum value of these high-priced fertilizers,” McCormick said.

The rains always come and Jay Stevens, LSU AgCenter soils specialist, advised farmers how they should prepare their pastures.Aeration and renovation were two practices he suggested as possible solutions to the compaction problem.

“To get rid of compacted areas you really have to get below it, lift it up and shatter it,” Stevens said. “When I think about renovation, I’m thinking about ripping it, tilling it, disking it, fertilizing it, liming it and replanting it.

“When the discussion is about aeration, you are more or less talking about using something that disturbs the soil enough so you can get some moisture down into that soil and have some ability to break up that hoofpan.”

In order to test compaction in the soil, Stevens recommends using a soil compaction meter that shows how deep the plant roots are able to grow.

Soil compaction characteristics before and after renovation at the research station was discussed by Ronnie Bardwell, LSU AgCenter dairy specialist.

Vinicius Moreira, LSU AgCenter nutrient management specialist, addressed whole-farm nutrient management.“When we talk about nutrient management, we are more or less looking for ways to minimize inputs, such as fertilizer, and maximize outputs, which is where you make your money.”

Moreira also discussed calcium and phosphorus utilization, bone mobilization and protein needs of dairy cattle.

At this time of year, farmers have summer grasses on their mind, but the soil situation is a determining factor in how well that grass grows. 

“Most of the state is definitely in a drought situation and people are wondering whether they should apply fertilizer because most of our grasses depend pretty heavily on nitrogen fertilizers,” said Ed Twidwell, LSU AgCenter forage specialist.

The combination of drought and compacted soils is putting producers in a stressful situation.

“We’re telling people to hold off on putting out fertilizer until they are more confident that rain is coming,” Twidwell said. “We are at a critical time with our summer forages, like our Bermuda and Bahia grass.”

Farmers are transitioning now from winter to summer forages and they really need some rainfall and fertilization to jumpstart those grasses and get them growing, Twidwell said. But they are really in a holding pattern right now.

So farmers are facing a double headache. They need to deal with compaction, but if they don’t get rain soon, their window for planting will be past. 

Corn gluten as an organic fertilizer is being looked at as an alternative to traditional fertilizers, according to Kun-Jun Han, LSU AgCenter agronomist, who is doing a research project that will conclude next year.

“It’s still too early to tell how it compares to poultry litter, but we know it can be an alternative organic fertilizer,” Han said. “It has some possibilities, but we must continue our test for two years before we will have clear conclusions.”