Bermudagrass stands may look ugly, but most should recover

If there's one bit of advice he has for owners of drought-affected bermudagrass pastures thinking about re-sprigging, it's “wait and see,” said a Texas Cooperative Extension expert.

“The pastures may look bad now, but most should recover this spring, with a little rain,” said Joe Vendramini, Extension forage specialist at the Overton Research and Extension Center.

Vendramini has been getting a large number of phone calls from concerned pasture owners. Their bermudagrass pastures look damaged, and they're concerned they may have to re-sprig this spring.

Re-sprigging can be an expensive proposition. The average cost for the sprigs and the sprigging operation averages $70 to $80 per acre in East Texas. Re-sprigging with a newer, high-production variety such as Tifton 85 averages $140 per acre, he said.

But bermudagrass has a high tolerance to drought. Even the long-lasting drought from last year most likely only thinned bermudagrass stands. Producers have seen this thinning to a lesser degree in past years, but the thinning is more exaggerated this year. And with recent rains, winter weeds are filling in the bare spots.

“Since bermudagrass is a warm-season grass and dormant in the winter, it can't compete with cool-season annual weeds,” Vendramini said.

But the winter weeds will die off come spring, and given a spring rain, the bermudagrass should recover in most instances.

Though the bermudagrass will likely recover, producers should be prepared to pay extra attention to weed control and fertilization this spring, Vendramini advised.

“A weed and fertilization program is always important. But this year it's particularly important for helping bermudagrass recover.”

Forages are big business in East Texas. In 2005, 22 East Texas counties reported cash receipts to farmers for forage and hay sales at $102 million, or about 5 percent of revenues for agriculture-related enterprises, said Greg Clary, Extension economist.

Farm receipts for beef and dairy operations, both of which are highly dependent on forages, were $490 million and $49 million, respectively. And because the money circulates as farmers buy goods and services in other business sectors — what's called the economic multiplier — the overall effect on the East Texas economy approached $1 billion in 2005.

“Using an economic multiplier of 1.5, the total economic impact of forages in East Texas is over $961 million,” Clary said.

Vendramini added that even if producers do need to re-sprig some fields, there are usually plenty of people willing to dig sprigs to supply the demand.

“It's a very profitable business: Sprigging actually can be more profitable than selling hay,” Vendramini said.

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