Row crops often get priority attention when a hailstorm rolls through, but bad storms can do a number on perennial forages as well.  When hail strikes your pasture or hay field, do you know what to do?

Timing of hail is probably the most important factor when assessing hail impacts on forage crops. Because our perennial forage crops are resilient, they do put up with regular grazing or haying after all, the real danger of a hail event is lost yield. 

In pastures where standing forage may now be lying on the ground, it’s a good idea to move animals from the affected pasture to allow plants to recover. If regrowth does occur, graze appropriately so overuse doesn’t occur. When dry conditions and hail intersect, regrowth may not happen and returning animals to the pasture may not be an option until moisture returns.

In alfalfa fields, the amount of damage inflicted and timing are key. The University of Wisconsin recommends management by assessing damage based on plant stages of development. Fields with over 2 weeks to go before harvest can often be left alone and harvested normally, with some yield loss expected. If damage of terminal buds is over 50%, management should instead focus on harvesting regrowth appropriately. 

Stands with less than 2 weeks to go until planned harvest can be harvested normally, with expected yield loss.  For those with severe lodging, wait 3-4 days for plants to right themselves. Disk mowers are better at picking up a lodged crop than sickle bars, but for both, tilt the bar or disc forward to increase forage pickup. 

If stand damage is severe enough that expected yield does not justify harvesting, management should focus on the harvest of regrowth.

Hailstorms are an unavoidable part of living on the plains. When a storm impacts your forage production, assessing damage and adjusting management appropriately can help make the best of an unfortunate situation.

By Ben Beckman

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