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Cropping strategies that lessen drought symptoms

You won’t be able to avoid it if the drought stretches into this year’s crop season. But, the effects can be lessened with some preparation, says a University of Missouri plant scientist.
Withstanding the drought can be done through diversifying crops and rotations, says Rob Myers, adjunct associate professor at the MU College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources. Cool season crops and cover crops, for example, help prepare for another potential drought season.
“Something to look at is adding other cool-season crops to the rotation, like winter wheat or canola, to help our overall cropping system better withstand drought as we move forward,” Myers says. “Among the summer annual crops, sunflowers and milo are drought-tolerant options.  Sunflowers can be planted early like corn or double-cropped after wheat.”
Myers says cover crops help throughout the winter because they provide cover fall through spring. While providing cover the soil is coated with residue to better blanket soil and builds organic matter in the soil improving rainfall infiltration and soil moisture-holding capability.
Drought-resistant corn and soybean hybrids are options, but Myers warns to employ them carefully. “They are worth looking at, but in [some] cases they’ve been developed in other regions of the country, so farmers need to understand when looking at those varieties how and where they were developed,” Myers says, adding high-yield varieties would be beneficial to use during a year of drought.
Droughts tend to worsen the longer they go on, so planting early and mixing up the maturities would help be more stable during dry times.
“A lot of our droughts tend to build up as the summer goes on,” he said. “If we can get varieties of corn and soybeans that mature a little early, and combine that with early planting dates, we can get the critical flowering and seed-set period into a time when the soil might not be quite as dry as it might be later in the summer.”
Myers recalls the hurricane last year and pointed out it came in August which helped out soybeans with later maturities.
Finally, drought is a stressful time for plants, leaving them more vulnerable than usual to stressors other than the weather, Myers says, “We’ll have fewer problems down the road by having varieties with good insect and disease resistance, so that they’re not being stressed by those pests while they are also suffering from moisture conditions.”

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