Jonie James

Even with early weaning and reduced stocking rates, our pastures took a hit due to the drought.  
Drought is generally defined as a prolonged period of time during which precipitation is less than 75 percent of average. In our area we are approximately at 45 percent of normal precipitation.

Even with early weaning and reduced stocking rates, our pastures took a hit due to the drought.  
Drought is generally defined as a prolonged period of time during which precipitation is less than 75 percent of average. In our area we are approximately at 45 percent of normal precipitation.
It was well documented in the 1930s drought can cause a dramatic shift in plant species, changing the plant community in our native grasslands. The combination of drought and heavy grazing can cause severe reductions in forage production and plant vigor.
What can managers do to help manage drought?  Practices that increase plant cover and plant vigor help capture what rainfall we do receive. We want all the rain to enter the soil and not run off the field. We should manage our grass so its root systems become more extensive, which provides openings for water movement into the soil profile.
Plant litter and standing plants reduce evaporation losses from extreme soil surface temperatures and drying winds. Grasslands that have been well managed over the years will recover faster and have more forage production than those that have been overgrazed in the past.
We are forecasted to receive 75 percent of our normal rainfall next year. Who knows if they are right, but if they are, by definition we will be in a drought.  
Producers should evaluate their pastures now, pay attention to what rainfall we receive between now and green up and base their stocking rates accordingly. Remember, the healthier a plant community enters a drought and the more carefully a plant community is managed during a drought, the quicker and healthier a plant community will respond coming out of a drought.  


Jonie James is the Harvey County Extension agent, agriculture.