Pastures in Tennessee have dried up after continued dry weather has taken its toll, resulting in worsening drought conditions. As a result, cattle farmers in the state are worried about the long-term effects the drought will have on their grass come spring.
Travis Tilley, a commercial cow/calf producer in Kingston, Tennessee, says that his pastures are struggling after several weeks of dry weather have impacted his operation. “They’re brown and dried up,” Tilley says, “The soil is powder.”
Tilley says pastures are reminiscent of how they would look in January, which makes him worry about how his grass will be impacted this coming spring.
Statewide, the USDA Crop Progress report for Tennessee for the week ending Nov. 5 shows that pasture conditions are 49% poor/very poor. Thirty-five percent rated fair, while 15% rated good, and just 1% of the state’s pastures were rated excellent.
Tilley says that about 0.20 inches of rain fell in middle Tennessee from Thursday, Nov. 9 into the morning of Friday, Nov. 10, but says that he hadn’t heard about any precipitation as being received on his own operation, which is in the eastern half of the state. If they don’t receive any rainfall, Tilley says it’ll be another missed opportunity to help alleviate the drought stress on his pastures.
Tilley says he’s concerned that, if it starts raining a significant amount, it’ll affect the grass stands in his pastures. “That causes a domino effect of affecting your grass stands and affecting the quality of grass,” Tilley says.
Because of the severity of the drought, Tilley says he hasn’t even been able to seed his grass or plant grass seed to improve his grass in the spring. After all, Tilley says you can’t dig into the soil right now because of how dry and powdery it is.
Tennessee’s USDA Crop Progress report says, “dry field conditions are leading many producers to forego winter wheat planting and pasture reseeding this year.”
While Tilley runs a cow/calf operation, he says he’s really in the grass business. “Our grass is our livelihood,” Tilley says, “and the cattle are our employees.”
Although Tilley says he’s been behind the eight ball this entire year, he’s actually been blessed. He says this is because decent rains in July helped ensure that the hay he grows for his cattle had a good second cutting that helped offset the losses he had in his first cutting of hay.
Overall, Tilley says he’s optimistic he’ll have enough hay to feed his cattle through the spring. He says using hay this year will certainly cost his operation, though.
William Tollefson, assistant state climatologist for the Tennessee Climate Office, says that, typically August to October tends to be the driest time of the year for Tennessee. “This is generally because the big frontal systems that bring rains are just not that common for us this time of year,” he notes.
Tollefson says that most of Tennessee did have a wet August, “but after that the rains pretty much cut off.” As a result, Tollefson says that September to October this year was the driest period ever recorded for Knoxville, the second driest for Chattanooga, and the third driest for Bristol and the Tri-Cities areas.
The latest drought monitor map shows that just over 2% of Tennessee’s acres have moved into D4 exceptional drought conditions, compared to none facing those conditions last week. Forty-one percent of the state is in D3 extreme drought, 32% is in D2 severe drought, 16% is in D1 moderate drought, and 5% of the state is abnormally dry. Just 3% of Tennessee reported no drought stress.
While this is typically the drier time of year for the state, Tollefson says that this year has been exceptionally dry, causing pastures to suffer and cattle producers to start feeding hay early. Tollefson says some cattle producers have even reduced their herds due to the lack of forage and water.
As we head into the winter months, Tollefson says that there are strong El Niño patterns, which means above average precipitation should be expected in the deep south, and drier than normal conditions in the Midwest. “Tennessee is usually a battleground between these two patterns,” Tollefson says, “so hopefully the wetter south is a bit stronger this year and we get caught up on precipitation before next year’s growing season starts.”