If you are a cattle producer and you don't plan ahead for drought, you are setting yourself up for big risks. That's the word from Pat Reece, owner and senior consultant at Prairie and Montane Enterprises grazing and ecosystems consulting firm at Gering.
Reece, who is a professor emeritus with the University of Nebraska with 30 years of experience in working with ranchers and landowners, spoke to a group of producers at Bloomfield recently, as part of an eight-stop, four-day traveling tour of Nebraska hosted by the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition.
Some of the big risks include depressed markets, increased costs of production, damaged rangeland resources and expended land and livestock equity.
"When grass is at a deficit of 32% or more of your average yield, you are out of grass," Reece said. "You need to look at your forage supply and make a list of all the possibilities" as part of writing a drought plan. "Then you need to ask yourself if I own the supplies, or if I can get them," he said. Too often, producer assume there will be enough forage supplies in a region for purchase, but when drought grips much of the nation, this may not be the case at all.
"Look at your forage demands," Reece said. "Look at all of the categories of cows and calves. Prioritize these into subgroups and decide which ones will go first to reduce pre-drought demand."
A drought plan should also answer timing questions, he said. "Ask yourself when you will wean your calves and at what age," Reece said. "Ask yourself when can extra forages be planted and when can they be grazed. If you are under rainfed conditions, you are at risk." Finally, Reece advised producers to consider how markets will change in a drought. Most likely, forage costs will go up and livestock prices will go down.
Reece told producers that they shouldn't hang onto their animals in hopes of some mythical "saving rain." This hope sometimes fuels what Reece called "management paralysis." Producers wait to take action, hoping for precipitation to come. But, nearly half of the moisture received on the Great Plains falls in May and June, he said. Rain in late June through September is less likely and will not save drought damaged pastures.
"It's so much better to be prepared, because drought effects do not follow a straight trajectory. They ramp up," Reece said.
If you'd like more information on writing a drought plan, contact Reece at 308-641-0167, or email PatReece@PrairieME.com.
Farmers weathering 2012 are learning plenty about everything from crop insurance to seed genetics as parched conditions reshape farm business across the country. Consider our 5-part approach to moving ahead after the toughest drought since the 1930s.