Drought recovery, forage production looking short

Farm Forum

Huron (NRCS) – Drought recovery in 2013 isn’t looking promising for South Dakota’s grazing lands. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Range Specialist Stan Boltz, Huron, SD, says even with normal precipitation, forage production will still be limited this summer. “If we were to get normal precipitation now until peak production which is about July 1, western and central South Dakota would only have about 60 to 70 percent production.”

At this level, these drought damaged pastures can only sustain 55- to 65 percent of normal stocking. Eastern SD counties that didn’t suffer as much drought during 2012 could expect about 80 percent of normal stocking rates. The lower production rate is because grassland plants’ ability to recover from drought takes several seasons with normal moisture, and longer with limited precipitation, like we’re seeing now, explains Boltz. South Dakota livestock producers can get help for handling the impact of drought by developing a Drought Plan with the aid of the SD Drought Tool, available from NRCS. “The Drought Tool is a good planning tool to set up a Drought Plan.” Boltz says, “We’re encouraging people to have a Drought Plan in place so as conditions change, producers are ready and can act on the management decisions they have already made ahead of time.”

The Drought Tool helps producers assess current conditions by using the past two years of precipitation to predict the expected percent of normal forage production and then stocking rate. Users can use the weather stations or enter their own precipitation data. The tool also walks producers through development of a current drought plan. Computer users can download the SD Drought Tool from the SD NRCS website or producers can stop in their local USDA Service Center for one-on-one assistance. “Every operation is unique with different goals and resources. Sometimes,” says Boltz, “just talking with resource professionals regarding land management decisions and options can be the biggest benefit and reassurance producers need for their farming and ranching decisions.”

Last year in South Dakota, NRCS worked with people on more than 4,700 plans that resulted in conservation work improving or enhancing the quality of more than 1.7 million acres.