A recent hail event that swept across the eastern part of South Dakota left a severe hail path length of about 225 miles stretching from Lake Oahe to west-central Minnesota (weather.gov). Late-season hail damage leaves growers wondering what to do next. Before making any drastic decisions about your fields, be sure to consider the following:
- Allow seven to 10 days for plants recover to assess injury as long as some pods or ears are still in-tact.
- Check with your crop insurance agent before making any decisions regarding hail-damaged fields.
- Think twice before applying any fungicides to protect hail-damaged crops. Fungicides are designed to protect against fungal plant diseases. Wounds in growing plants are prone to bacterial infection, which fungicides do not protect against.
- Check your previously used pesticide labels. Before determining alternative uses for hail-damaged fields, harvest and forage utilization intervals must be checked on all applied pesticides. In addition, check rotation intervals before planting another crop; for a quick look-up on herbicide rotation restrictions, view our article, Herbicide Rotation Restrictions.
Depending on the level of defoliation and plant moisture, row crops left standing may still provide a grain crop and, if not, a viable grazing or green chopping option. Iowa Extension has two excellent publications on decision making after hail for corn and soybean that may be helpful. If the grain crop is determined to be a loss, there are several options to consider.
Keep in mind that there are many considerations to make regarding cattle health and feed utilization before grazing a corn or soybean crop. See our Grazing Corn or the Using Soybeans as Forage videos on our YouTube channel for more information on grazing corn and soybean.
If you’re interested in chopping hail-damaged corn or soybean to ensile, be sure to check the plant moisture first and consider using one of the annual forage options listed in this article following chopping to keep soils covered and potentially provide additional forage. Keep in mind that feed nutrient values may be lower than expected after hail events, especially in the case of soybean if plants are mostly defoliated.
Planting Cool-Season Annuals
Annuals can extend the grazing season or provide haying/chopping materials to help get your livestock through the winter. Crops, like oats, barley and spring wheat, can provide fall grazing, haying or chopping opportunities if planted now. These are ideal for growers seeking a crop that will winter-kill. Although it is relatively late in the season, there is still a good chance of developing a reasonable amount of biomass to help extend your forage resources with cool-season annuals. Winter annuals, like winter rye, winter wheat or winter triticale, will provide both fall and spring forage when conditions allow if planted mid-to-late September. Keep in mind that spring termination will be necessary with winter annuals if the crop is not intended to reach maturity.
If grazing is on the table, many cool-season cover crops (such as legumes or brassicas) should also be considered (ie: clover, peas, radish, turnip, etc.). Regardless of crops selected for fall planting, strip grazing is typically the best way to utilize feedstuffs and reduce waste. It does require some fence-moving every few days, but often takes less fuel and time than haying/chopping and feeding. Should you choose to hay, remember that feeding livestock back on the field it was cut from or spreading manure are good ways to recycle nutrients and work towards maintaining soil health.
For the Good of the Soil
If you do not require additional forage, this is a prime opportunity to dabble with cover crops. If you have a desire to meet specific needs (such as keeping your soils protected from erosion, recycling nutrients, reducing compaction, suppressing weeds, etc.), cover crops may be for you. Choose a couple main purposes, and then work towards creating a mix that is right for you! Keep in mind that cover crops will need spring termination if winter annuals are used.
Consider all the options for your hail-damaged crop before calling it quits on this year’s growing season. Before utilizing any new feeds or feeding methods, be sure to consult with an animal nutritionist or veterinarian. If you choose to plant cool-season annuals for forage or cover, consult the Cover Crop Species Selection for Crop Production spreadsheet for ideas on annual cover crop mixes that might work best for you, or contact SDSU Extension or U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel for further assistance. There are many cool-season grass and broadleaf species to choose from that can still be successfully planted this fall if growing conditions allow.