SALINA — While there have been some recent rains, drought conditions for many areas in Kansas continue to worsen. Recently, Governor Jeff Colyer updated the Drought Declaration for Kansas counties with Executive Order 18-16. The update declares all 105 counties either in an emergency, warning, or watch status. This order places nearly half of Kansas counties in an emergency drought status.
Dustin D. Schwandt, Rangeland Management Specialist, with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) says protecting rangeland during a drought means balancing the needs of livestock with the capacity of natural resources that have become more fragile by a lack of water. “Right now, we can expect some below average production values across much of the state.”
Schwandt said “failing to plan is planning to fail” in drought conditions like this and can lead to an even longer recovery time of key native plants if a contingency plan is not developed and followed. “A sound grazing management plan usually references the ‘take half and leave half approach’ by the end of the grazing period.”
Schwandt encourages producers to monitor grass growth throughout the growing season. A grazing exclusion cage is a great tool to determine the total grass production for a certain year (inside the cage) compared to the amount being grazed (outside of the cage). Cages should be moved annually, prior to the grazing season, to get an accurate representation of the current year’s production. With two-thirds of biomass (plant material) below ground, it is important to keep key native plant roots in a vigorous state to maximize production and substainability.
“Taking more than 50 percent biomass above ground in a given year can cause negative impacts on plant root production and growth,” said Schwandt. “Using the cage will ensure no more than 50 percent is used.”
NRCS develops prescribed grazing plans that are based on production for “normal” years. NRCS classifies rangeland into units called Ecological Site Descriptions. These site descriptions provide information to assess the condition of current resources, evaluate management opportunities, and predict the outcome of management decisions.
“Contingency plan actions will need to be addressed in some areas,” said Schwandt. “There are a number of options that may include early weaning, shorter time period of grazing with the entire herd, or removing cattle from pastures and feeding supplements in dry lots.”
Schwandt encourages producers to visit their local NRCS office as soon as possible to review their contingency plan. “Approximately 75 percent of forage growth on native grass for the given year has occurred. Even if we receive rain now, the forage will only grow another 25 percent,” he concluded.
Monitor Current Drought Conditions Online
With the current climate conditions, two beneficial websites for producers to track current drought conditions and status of forage growth include:
• U.S. Drought Monitor — This tool is updated every Thursday at droughtmonitor.unl.edu/currentmap/statedroughtmonitor.aspx?ks.
• Kansas State University monthly precipitation maps — Gives precipitation data for each county. This is a good resource for producers to use as a “visual” of their current fields compared to the normal precipitation amounts in their county.