Drought, Dry Conditions Affecting Nebraska Ranchers

LINCOLN, Neb. (COLLEN) – Lack of rain, hot temperatures and other drought conditions are showing little improvement across Nebraska. Currently, 100% of the state is in a minimum dry state.

For one of the state’s biggest earners, agriculture, this drought is causing economic problems and could create even bigger problems in the future.

Chris Vinton Ranch in Whitman has been raising cattle outside of the Whitman area since the late 1800s. Like many in agriculture, the Wintons have a drought plan.

Sherry Winton reviewed the reports and decided together with her husband that they should reduce their herd.

“In May, we decided to intensify the breeding season,” Winton said.

The breeding season was shortened to 45 days in order to limit the number of calves. Winton estimates that this has reduced their breeding by about 20%.

The cow-calf operation also sold about 300 cows when they love about 1,000 head. Some calves were weaned early and brought to the market.

“We’re starting early cutting there and the calves are going much earlier, months earlier than normal, at lighter weights. So that reduces your revenue as well because we’re in a business that pays by the pound,” Winton said. “Anything that reduces the number of pounds you sell reduces your revenue. You’re in a situation where you’re selling fewer pounds. and you spend more money on your resources, on hay and feed.

In a business that pays by the pound, a drop in food production poses obvious problems. The dry weather has affected farmers across the state, especially those without irrigation systems.

“There wasn’t a lot of soil moisture to get these crops going, so we needed rain and that’s why we’re seeing drought conditions,” said Brian Fuchs, a UNL climatologist. “We’re in the same boat again this year.”

The Nebraska Farm Bureau estimates that dryland producers will be hit hard.

“Dry lands are those that do not have irrigation and do not use it. They’re the ones that will see the biggest yield impact,” said Jordan Dukes, senior director of national affairs for the Nebraska Farm Bureau. “At the same time, if you’re going to irrigate, you’re going to have to pay to pump the water. And so where the price of diesel or even electricity. If you switch to electric wheels, it’s definitely a cost saving, but of course pumping isn’t free either.”

Fuchs said the dry spell has been going on for more than a year and has only seen things get worse. For farmers and ranchers like the Wintons, it can feel like they’re in the air and the markets.

“The margins are going to be very, very tight this year,” Winton said. “It’s hard to see the cows that you’ve spent a lifetime developing these genetics on. You don’t want them to go, it’s a last resort.”

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