Drought conditions are building in western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming, with one hot, windy day after another drying out pastures and grazing lands.
The U.S. Drought Monitor released weekly, shows areas of Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas in drought and worsening drought conditions. The U.S. Drought Monitor is a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“A significant part of the northern and southern panhandle is well below average on precipitation,” said Jack Arterburn, Neb. Extension beef systems educator. “The soil moisture has carried us from the winter through the spring, but now it’s starting to get really hot and dry.”
Grasslands in the Panhandle are cool-season grasses, which reach peak growth in mild temperatures before the heat of summer.
Rangelands, meant for cattle, will be drying up in the heat, and cattle ranchers are going to have to plan for drought conditions.
“You’re going to have to take a look at what you have (grasses) and if it’s not going to be enough for what you planned to graze. Destocking is really going to have to be a choice,” said Arterburn.
A low cattle market has had devastating effects on the cattle producer, and holding onto cattle and feeding them through a drought could create more loss.
The late freezes in May put Wyoming alfalfa growers down 35 to 50 percent of yield in the first cut.
“I know a lot of people cut early because of the bugs,” said Toby Skinner with the Wyoming Hay and Forage Association. “I know the weevil, aphids, and grasshoppers are moving in, and people are spraying for them.”
While the first cut didn’t yield as much alfalfa, Skinner said in the last few weeks of June, cow hay went up $20 to $25 a ton.
“There’s a lot of ranches up north and down south, with grasses burning up, so they’re going to have to start feeding hay,” Skinner said.
Alfalfa growers are focusing on keeping the bugs at bay and getting fertilizer and water on the hay to push for a better second cut.
With markets low and alfalfa going up, the cattle producer is going to be facing some tough decisions.
When a producer looks to reduce stocking rates, they need to look at yearlings, non-pregnant heifers and cows, or problem animals.
“Hopefully, this market turns around, but what if it doesn’t? You fed through the drought and then sell into a low market. Be realistic about your costs and what is available for feed,” Arterburn said.