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Predicted Hot, Dry Summer Could Impact Forage Production

By Aaron Berger

In parts of the High Plains region, recent developing dry conditions are starting to raise concerns that we may see reduced forage production from pasture and rangelands as we move on into the rest of the spring and summer. The map shows many parts of the Sandhills and Panhandle regions receiving below average precipitation for the last 30 days.  This time frame is critical for precipitation that drives cool-season forage production on rangeland and pasture.

The Climate Prediction Center recently released its long-range forecast for June, July and August and it is leaning toward above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation for the western two-thirds of Nebraska. (See the CPC Long Range Weather forecast for more information.) If these conditions materialize, it could further significantly reduce forage production from rangeland and pasture as well as yields from annual and perennial hay crops.  Already drought conditions are impacting eastern Colorado and the western two-thirds of Kansas.

Currently hay stocks in many parts of the High Plains Region are significantly higher than they were a year ago. The USDA National Ag Statistics Service reported that hay stocks in Nebraska were up 79% from last year on May 1 with an estimated 950,000 tons of hay on hand. These conditions have resulted in hay prices being significantly less than they were a year ago at this time.

These circumstances should prompt producers to consider the possibility of securing a portion of the expected needed hay supplies for next fall and winter now.  Should hot, dry conditions develop, stocking rates on pastures may need to be reduced and hay yields could be significantly less than they were a year ago.  This would be supportive of hay prices, especially later in the summer and moving on into the fall.  

Nebraska Extension has several resources at on strategies for dealing with drought conditions related to cattle production. Now may be a good time to pull out the drought plan and review both options and trigger dates for decisions should drought conditions develop. Planning and thinking through options now give producers greater opportunities to act in a timely manner should it be needed.

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