Most ranchers didn’t foresee this summer’s drought as they were heading into 2012, but with climate experts predicting below average soil moisture next spring, many are making plans for the hindered conditions in 2013.

Drought conditions have affected two-thirds of the United States and most farmers and ranchers will need to make management decisions adjusting for the drier conditions. Bruce Anderson, Extension forage specialist with the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, told the Yankton Daily Press producers should have started planning for another year of drought this summer, but making decisions now is a better time than waiting until next summer.

“Next year shouldn’t catch anyone by surprise,” Anderson said. “We know already that it is nearly impossible to fully recharge moisture into the soil profile by next spring. Unless you receive lots of extra, good soaking moisture next spring, dryland yields are likely to be below average. And since there will be very little hay carryover, prices are likely to stay high.”

From determining the right feed to use and the best time to buy it, to forming a grazing plan based on the forage available and evaluating pasture conditions affected by heavily used pastures, producers should take the time to evaluate their options.

Anderson is expecting lower than average pasture capacities based on weakened root systems brought on by extended grazing. Producers should consider a benefit-cost ratio for the number of animals they have and how they will be fed.

“If it stays dry, can you afford to keep doing what you have been doing? Should you plant annual forages to get more hay? Or rent more corn stalks for winter grazing? How about grazing more stockers and fewer cows? Or even sell all your cattle and rent out your pasture? And if it does rain, how can you take the most advantage of it?” he asked.

Anderson is speaking about range and pasture conditions depending on winter and spring moisture at two Nebraska Beef Short Courses on January 17th and 24th. More information can be found here.