Will grass re-establish in Gulf Coast area pastures that were covered in murky, salty, or contaminated floodwaters for several weeks in September? That is a question agronomy researchers at Louisiana State University (LSU) aim to answer in the coming months. Plant and soil scientists are analyzing how best to manage pastures and hay fields that were swamped by water in the weeks following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Shannon Gonsoulin, owner of All Creatures Animal Hospital in New Iberia, La., has been helping livestock owners after the hurricanes. He says, "The salt water moved farther north (than normal), and I'm not sure how the cattle and pastures are going to handle it. Will the grass be dormant for a year and then come back? Will the grasses come back with salinity (saltiness)? These are all questions we don't have answers to at this point."

Ed Twidwell, extension forage specialist with the LSU AgCenter, has visited most of the floodwater-affected agricultural areas in Louisiana. "The biggest problem deals with the length of time the floodwaters stayed on the pasture and hay areas," he said. "There are still some areas along the coast that remain underwater. The pastures in these areas may take a while to recover."

In more northern areas, "the floodwaters may have been on fields from one to three days, and then receded," Twidwell explained. "In these areas the bermudagrass is recovering pretty well, but other forage species such as bahiagrass and carpetgrass are more severely impacted."

He anticipates that it will be spring before a true assessment on the pastures can be made. "The problem here is water basically drowning the plants," he added. "Salinity may be a secondary problem."

About this time each year, farmers begin planting ryegrass for winter and spring grazing, so planting winter pastures into floodwater-affected areas is the number one issue agronomists are dealing with right now. Twidwell and others are determining how sensitive young ryegrass is to saline conditions.

"Producers can have their soil analyzed for salinity, or they can perform their own field bioassay," he continued. Farmers can plant strips of ryegrass into affected areas, or they can take small soil samples, put the soil in pots, and plant a small amount of ryegrass seed in the pots. "The ryegrass should germinate in about seven days. This will give them an idea of what to expect under field conditions."

Hopes are high that the issue of once-flooded pastures won't be one more long-term devastating effect seen from the hurricanes. "I think that winter rains should help the permanent pastures and hayfields recover by next spring," Twidwell said.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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