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Agricultural News


Jimmy Emmons on Improving Soil Health During Drought

Fri, 29 Jul 2022 08:30:39 CDT

Jimmy Emmons on Improving Soil Health During Drought Many states are lacking moisture for their pastures and ranges, and as time with limited rainfall goes on, forage quality has declined. Senior Farm and Ranch Broadcaster, Ron Hays, caught up with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission's Soil Health Mentoring Coordinator, Jimmy Emmons, talking about the best practices to optimize soil health for forage growth during drought.

“From here to the west and north is tremendous drought,” Emmons said. “A lot of D4 and D3 everywhere. Cow herds are being culled at an enormous rate right now, so the market is feeling the pressure of that influx of culled cows.”

After visiting with state climatologist, Gary McManus, Emmons said there is a consensus that the drought is probably worse than what the drought monitor is showing. With so many risk management products relying on the information presented in the drought monitor, Emmons said it is critical that the monitor shows accurate information.

“A lot of the data is based on the drought monitor and the number that you are in and how long you have been in that category as far as assistance and feed programs and different things,” Emmons said. “What we don’t want to do is try to raise that just for that specific benefit unless the data is there, so we feel like maybe the data is not being collected and shared the way it should be, and we are trying to help them collect better data on the ground.”

Conversation about the current drought frequently eludes back to the 2011 and 2012 time period. Emmons said it is a good comparison, but these two events are a little different.

The difference between now and the drought then is that this drought came earlier, Emmons said. We did not get the chance to have spring growth of grass this time, he added.

“We had a cool period and then a dry period, and so our grass didn’t get off to a very good start, and then we had a flash drought, and we had a little weather event,” Emmons said. “Anyhow, we are a lot further behind in the time frame of the year cycle with this drought, so it is worse, so to speak, for the cattlemen in the summer crops than we experienced in ’11 and ’12.”

These conditions present serious forage problems, Emmons said, so making sure to build up your soil to be in a position to handle these problems is critical.

“What we are seeing is extremely tough conditions on any summer cover crops or cash grain crops and grain sorghums,” Emmons said. “They are really taking it on the nose here, but we still have a living root in the ground and our water infiltration is still above where we would be if we were in a heavy tillage scenario or conventional system.”

With the promise of rain coming for several days here, Emmons said a healthy soil profile can take that water in and refill the profile.

“We have exhausted a lot of that profile out trying to grow these crops and these covers for forages for these cattle needing it off of these rangelands,” Emmons said.

Water infiltration ability is critical to soil health, Emmons said, so that crops can take in rains efficiently when they come and store that moisture for later. Getting your soil to a point where it can store the moisture, Emmons added, is all about lessening the disturbance of your field.

“It is all about aggregate stability,” Emmons said. “The aggregate size. So, that is the particle in the soil that has the particle attached to it. As you lessen disturbance on that field, you don’t crush that aggregate.”

When the soil is disturbed, Emmons said the particles become smaller, making it more difficult for water to seep through.

“As you build the health, the micro activity puts carbon to that aggregate size and helps build it, so that gives it the ability to be more porous so that it can take the rain in,” Emmons said.

For someone who wants to start improving the quality of their soils and infiltration rates, Emmons said it starts with good herd management and pasture management.

“Don’t just put a stocking rate out there and go see them and leave them there,” Emmons said. “You’ve got to take half, leave half, so you have that mulch and shade that keeps that temperature down so the plant has the best opportunity for life as well.”

For a rancher, Emmons said it is hard to see standing grass in a drought when you need forage, and you want to take more than that. But if you do, Emmons said that high impact will destroy the soil.

Emmons said good soil health leads to forage growth, which leads to cover. In times like these with extreme heat, having a cover over the soil can drop the temperature of soil up to 50 degrees, he added, which is a significant difference.


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