Greener Pastures

Pasture Conditions Good in High Plains This Spring

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Rains in April set the stage for improved pasture and rangeland conditions across the High Plains region. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- High Plains pastures and rangeland is growing historically well this spring thanks to plenty of moisture in the region. That's good news for grazers from North Dakota to Texas as cattleman continue to rebuild beef cows herds that were reduced in recent dry years.

Pasture and rangeland conditions are in especially good shape in the northern High Plains area. As of May 8, North Dakota pasture and rangeland conditions were rated zero % very poor, 3% poor, 26% fair, 64% good and 7% excellent; South Dakota zero % very poor, 1% poor, 22% fair, 66% good and 11% excellent; Nebraska zero % very poor, 1% poor, 24% fair, 64% good and 11% excellent; and Kansas zero % very poor, 3% poor, 30% fair, 60% good and 7% excellent, according to the latest weekly state Crop Progress reports.

While not as good as the north, the Southern Plains region also has fairly good pasture and rangeland condition. Oklahoma had condition ratings of 1% very poor, 10% poor, 40% fair, 45% good and 4% excellent, while Texas had ratings of 2% very poor, 7% poor, 31% fair, 43% good and 17% excellent.

WET SPRING

John Harrington, DTN livestock analyst, said, in general, it appears the High Plains are off the wettest spring since at least May of 2010. This moisture, in turn, has allowed grass to grow very well so far this spring.

"For the Northern Plains, these early spring condition rates appear to be the best since before 1996 as far as grass rating fair or better," Harrington said. "The Southern Plains rate is decent, but it does not stand out as much as the north, as Texas and Oklahoma were rated slightly higher last spring."

Bryce Anderson, DTN senior ag meteorologist, said rains in April set the stage for improved pasture and rangeland conditions across the High Plains region.

During April, Dodge City, Kansas, received 8.08 inches of precipitation, smashing the previous record for the most rain in April of 6.26 inches in 1976. Twenty-one counties around the Dodge City area reported 6 or more inches of precipitation in April with three counties (Trego, Kiowa and Morton) reporting more than 10 inches for the month.

"The abnormally dry designation, the first threshold of drought, shrank from 56% of the state down to 14% in just one week in April in Kansas," Anderson said.

All the spring moisture has pastures in good shape across the northwestern part of the Sunflower State, according to Rachael Boyle, Kansas State University Extension agent for Phillips and Rooks counties in northwestern Kansas. Rains fell last spring and throughout the last growing season, and while it was dry earlier this spring, the last few weeks have provided several inches of additional moisture.

"We have some nice rains, which has the pastures looking really good," Boyle said.

Andy Weisser, a farmer and rancher from Roscoe, South Dakota, said he believes the pasture and rangeland condition of his home area in north-central South Dakota appears to be on track with what is typical growth. The region may be have benefited from a mild winter, he said.

"You have to remember we had an open winter and really no precipitation until the last couple of week," Weisser said. "I would still call them average condition."

Weisser said his father-in-law ranches in western South Dakota, and his region has seen much rain this spring. The area is way above normal with moisture, and the grass is very good out there, he said.

GOOD IN SOUTH

While pasture and rangeland conditions in the Southern Plains are not quite as good as they are in the north, conditions there are still good.

Justin Dauer, a farmer and rancher near Panhandle, Texas, said conditions in the Texas Panhandle region are fairly decent this spring thanks to moisture over the last year. He said last spring saw much moisture, something that has not been too common there in recent years.

"I have a neighbor who keeps detailed weather records, and he had 30 inches of precipitation in the first six months of last year," Dauer told DTN. "To compare it, he only had 3 inches in all of 2011."

This past winter and spring started off dry, but during the last three or four weeks, timely rains have fallen again, helping the grass to grow. Dauer said he figures he has received about 3.5 inches of rain since mid-April.

"I think what will help this year is having subsoil moisture for the first time in a long time," he said. "We have a full 6-foot profile."

In east Texas, pasture conditions are mixed, according to Vanessa Corriher-Olson, forage specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension based in Overton, Texas. There are some pastures with ryegrass and clover that are maturing and seeding out, she said.

Bermudagrass pastures have broken dormancy; however, they are not growing very quickly at this time, she said. For this type of pasture, it is a bit early to tell what condition the grass will be in.

"We have had a lot of spring moisture, which is great, but we are starting to get dry again," Corriher-Olson said.

Dauer said that in addition to the moisture of the last two growing seasons, reduced stocking rates have also aided in helping pasture and rangeland recover after several drought years. From 2011 to 2014, it was extremely dry and the grass struggled to grow, forcing cattlemen in the Texas Panhandle to cut back on herd size.

Dauer, who also raised corn, cotton, sorghum and wheat, said he culled about a third of his cow-calf herd during the drought years. He considered reducing his numbers more but was concerned about losing grazing lands if he reduced his numbers too much, so he kept his culling at a third of his herd.

Now, with plenty of grass to graze, he, like many cattlemen in the Southern Plains region, has been rebuilding his herd. He isn't quite to pre-drought size, but he figures he is about 30 to 40 head away from the size of herd before the drought.

"We just hope the moisture keeps coming," he said. "You just never know how much you are going to get out here in our country."

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

(AG/SK)

Russ Quinn