October 31, 2007 | By: Laura Skillman
PRINCETON, Ky

For months, Kentuckians anxiously watched the heavens for any chance of rain. Finally, the sky relented and sent much needed water to the state. The rains should help replenish farm ponds, provide moisture needed for recently planted winter wheat and encourage fall growth in pastures.

Prior to last week’s rains, many parts of the state were about a foot below normal in rainfall. Western Kentucky through the Bluegrass area saw almost half of that deficit wiped out during nearly a week of wet weather, but southeast Kentucky didn’t get as much precipitation, said Tom Priddy, agricultural meteorologist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. 

“I don’t think we are out of the woods yet, but we’ve gotten some breathing room,” he said.

And Priddy is optimistic this may be the beginning of more moisture to come. Forecasts are calling for La Nina conditions to strengthen this winter which means wet, mild weather for Kentucky. La Nina is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. Temperatures in the Pacific play a role in weather across the United States.

“The outlook looks good,” he said. “I hope we go into the next growing season with the water table replenished.”

On more immediate terms, the rains should help some fall pastures with cool season grasses to put on some growth in the next few weeks. The rains will result in a flush of growth, but how much will be depend on temperatures in November, said Ray Smith, UK forage specialist. If temperatures can remain in the 40s and 50s in the daytime and not much below freezing at night, cool season grasses will continue to grow throughout the month. 

That could mean some relief for livestock producers worried about poor pastures and little hay supplies. However, severely overgrazed pastures are in a weakened state, and they will not respond as well.

Allowing pastures to recover and put on some growth before putting cattle in to graze will provide better fall growth and allow for better grazing, Smith said. This can be done by continuing to feed hay for a time or limiting access to only a few fields at a time, allowing others to regrow.

Early November is also a good time to put between 30 to 60 pounds of nitrogen onto pastures. This may allow for some additional fall growth, but its larger benefit is in improved stand density, root development for winter and spring growth. This late fall nitrogen application is a standard recommendation no matter the year, Smith said.

“These low nitrogen rates may pay off this fall and they will for sure pay off next year,” Smith said.

On another front, the rains will aid winter wheat that has been planted in recent weeks. About 60 percent of the state’s winter wheat crop has been planted, which is ahead of both last year and the five-year average. Also, as soon as fields are dry enough for planting, farmers are likely to make quick work of getting the remainder of the crop in the ground.

“There’s still plenty of time,” said Chad Lee, UK extension grains crop specialist. “Most of these guys will plant through the first few weeks of November.”

Wheat acreage is expected to increase this growing season due to higher than normal prices. Across the soft winter wheat growing region of the country which includes Kentucky, acreage is expected to increase by 2 million acres, Lee said.

Contact: 

Tom Priddy, 859-257-3000, ext. 245, Ray Smith, 859-257-3358, Chad Lee, 859-257-3203