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Agronomic Services — News Release

THURSDAY, August 2, 2007

Contact: David Dycus or Bill Yarborough, regional agronomists
NCDA&CS Agronomic Division
Dycus (919) 776-9338; Yarborough (828) 456-3943

Don't fertilize grass during drought

RALEIGH—In most years, August, September and October are prime months for fertilizing cool-season grasses, including hay and pasture crops. This year, however, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Agronomic Division is cautioning people to delay fertilization until drought conditions ease up significantly.

Applying fertilizer could not only be a waste of time and money, it could also be dangerous if grass is to be used in livestock production, warn NCDA&CS regional agronomists David Dycus and Bill Yarborough. "Nitrate poisoning of livestock is a real concern," said Dycus, whose territory stretches from Guilford County south through the sandhills.

Although homeowners do not need to worry about nitrate poisoning, they should also avoid fertilizing their lawns under drought conditions.

"Grasses, like fescue and orchardgrass, that are dormant during the summer will be slow to begin fall growth without sufficient moisture," said Yarborough, who covers 10 far western counties that have been hit hard by drought. "It is tempting to want to add fertilizer to hasten growth, but during drought conditions, fertilization will not produce a favorable growth response.

"In addition, fertilization can cause unusually high levels of nitrates to accumulate in forage crops," Yarborough said. "High levels of nitrates can be fatal to cattle."

To keep track of the drought status in your area, visit Currently, far western counties are experiencing severe to extreme drought, while the vast majority of the Piedmont is under moderate drought. The state's coastal areas are classified as abnormally dry.

"It will rain eventually, but rain doesn't necessarily mean an end to the drought," Dycus said. "Be aware that plants will still be under stress until moisture levels in the soil profile increase enough to meet daily crop needs."

The agronomists stress that the most important precaution is to refrain from fertilizing while drought conditions continue. In addition, livestock owners should have all forages tested for nitrate levels. This free test is available from the NCDA&CS Food and Drug Protection Division. For information, call (919) 733-7366.

Reporting hay shortages to the local U.S. Farm Service Agency office is also crucial. Accurate records of shortages will be needed to determine whether drought conditions constitute a disaster situation. Contact information for FSA offices is available at

The NCDA&CS Agronomic Division has 13 regional agronomists who give advice on crop nutrient issues. Visit or call the division office at (919) 733-2655 to contact the agronomist assigned to your county.


Last Update December 19, 2008


NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division, Colleen M. Hudak-Wise, Ph.D., Director
Mailing Address: 1040 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1040
Physical Address: 4300 Reedy Creek Road, Raleigh NC 27607-6465
Phone: (919) 733-2655; FAX: (919) 733-2837

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