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Range and pasture condition rapidly declines across the state

Range and pasture condition rapidly declines across the state

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Cow/calf pairs grazed on spring pasture near Scottsbluff.

According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, data compiled in a statewide weekly report indicates Nebraska’s range and pasture condition experienced a notable decline from last week’s report.

Based on survey data collected each week, the USDA specified On Monday, Oct. 19, 32% of Nebraska’s range and pasture land is in poor condition, 30% in very poor condition, 23% in fair condition, 14% in good condition and 1% in excellent condition.

On Monday, Oct. 12, seven days prior to the most recent reports, the USDA and NASS indicated 36% of Nebraska’s range and pasture land was in good condition, 26% in fair condition, 22% in poor condition, 16% in very poor condition and 1% in excellent condition.

In comparison of Oct. 12 and Oct. 19 data, a minimum of 22% of land moved from good condition classifications to poor or very poor condition.

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, common factors taken into account when determining range and pasture condition categories include, percent desirable plants, plant cover, plant diversity, plant residue, plant vigor, percent legume, uniformity of use, livestock concentration areas, soil compaction and erosion.

“Forage productions on cool-season dominate pasture and rangeland is highly correlated to precipitation and soil moisture from April through June. If adequate soil moisture is not present during this period, vegetation will not be able to fully express its growth potential . . . Once the vegetation’s rapid growth window has passed, additional precipitation may not contribute significantly to additional plant growth,” Nebraska Extension Educators Aaron Berger and Jack Arterburn reported.

Precipitation and drought proves to be a significant factor in range condition. According to the United States Drought Monitor, updated on Thursday, Oct. 23, 100% of all land types in the state are in some level of drought, with 11.3% of land in the state in an extreme and/or exceptional drought.

“The effects of drought are intensified at poorer range conditions. Rangeland in fair condition is often more severely affected by drought than rangeland in good to excellent condition,” according to the national drought mitigation center at University of Nebraska, “Range condition also influences the rate of recovery in forage production after drought.”

According to drought monitor resources, potential impacts of a D3- D4 drought condition include, Hay is scarce and expensive; producers are selling cattle early and culling; horses are abandoned, Pavement is cracking, Fish kills claim thousands of fish; drought-tolerant trees are dying, Water temperatures are high; Platte River is dry in sections; water recreation is limited, Groundwater use increases; new irrigation wells are drilled.

“Managers should use an integrated and coordinated approach to manage rangeland vegetation, water, and soils, in order to maintain healthy rangeland communities before and after droughts. The timeframes for improving resilience to the effects of drought fall into three categories: pre-drought, during drought, and post-drought,” USDA Climate Hub reports, “During Drought improve distribution of livestock, moving or removing herds as needed and utilizing portable water troughs to improve livestock distribution and reduce the impacts on vegetation, soils, and permanent water supplies.”

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