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Despite rain, some pastures still parched

Jeff Caldwell 04/15/2013 @ 11:12am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

It may be damp now, but that doesn't mean farmers and ranchers in places like Nebraska are out of the woods when it comes to drought. That's especially true for cattle producers relying on pasture as a primary feedstock.

"Last week’s moisture certainly was welcome, although most of us probably would have preferred it to have come as rain," says University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist Bruce Anders. "Still, nearly everyone now should have enough moisture for pastures and hay fields to green up and begin growing as temperatures increase."

A quick look at the U.S. Drought Monitor map drives home Anderson's warning to producers. Recent rainfall's been beneficial, but it hasn't loosened the drought's grip altogether.

"Don't be fooled. The drought is not over," he says in a university report. "Being in a drought does not mean there is no rain. It means that the amount of moisture received is much less than average. We have a long way to go before we start approaching average moisture."

The pastures in Anderson's state of Nebraska still need "several inches of rain" before they'll be back up to more normal output levels. However, it's not just tonnage that you still need to think about until that moisture returns.

"The health and vigor of your pasture and hay plants may not be what you would like at this time. Last year these plants received a lot of stress from dry weather, hot temperatures, and in some cases, overuse. These plants will not be as thrifty this spring; some may have even died. Those that survived will grow more slowly this spring and have difficulty regrowing rapidly after grazing or cutting. As a result, yields could be lower than average," Anderson says. "What this all means is that you still need to manage your pastures and haylands for drought conditions. It could take a full year or more of average precipitation to recover from last year’s drought."

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