The area under drought in Nebraska has waned a bit in recent weeks—shrinking from 97 percent of the state’s land area a few weeks ago to 88 percent in the most recent drought monitor map (Figure 2). Yet a significant portion of the state still suffers from some form of severe drought—42 percent of the state is under severe, extreme, or exceptional drought. For cattle producers drought means poor pasture and rangeland conditions which affect forage production. The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA NASS) updates pasture and rangeland conditions as part of its weekly crop progress reports. The reports provide insights of how drought is impacting cattle producers this year and can be used to compare conditions with other drought years.
Figure 2. Nebraska Drought Monitor, June 23, 2022
Figure 3 compares the percent of pasture and rangeland in Nebraska classified as poor and very poor this year with two other drought years—2012 and 2013. Weekly changes are shown between weeks 18 and 43 of the year, roughly the first of May to the end of October. The extreme drought in 2012 makes it a good reference point for comparison to this year. And 2013 is included because the 2012 drought extended into 2013 before abetting. Other years since 2013 have experienced dryness, but nothing like the extremes seen in 2012 and the first half of 2013.
Notably, pasture conditions in the June 27 progress report, 41 percent rated as poor and very poor, are basically the same compared to the same week in 2012, 43 percent rated poor and very poor. However, conditions this year have taken a very different path to this point in the year relative to 2012. The area rated poor and very poor this year started high, over 60 percent in week 18, but improved markedly through week 23, before starting to again deteriorate. In contrast, area rated as poor and very poor in 2012 started low until week 20 when conditions began to deteriorate rapidly. The area rated poor and very poor grew from 9 percent to 83 percent in just 10 weeks time, eventually reaching 97 percent six weeks later.
Unfortunately, it appears this year’s pasture and rangeland conditions for producers are similar to 2012 if not worse. If it continues, it could mean tough decisions for cattle producers on herd size, available forage, and feed purchases.
Figure 3. Poor/Very Poor Pasture & Rangeland Conditions (2012, 2013, & 2022)