Drought still felt by farmers, ranchers

The corn is up in fields in Lincoln County. Now it is up to Mother Nature.

Area farmers and ranchers watched the sky with baited breath on Tuesday as Mother Nature wound up for some wild weather across Nebraska.

Most of the area crops are in the fields, said Greg Kruger, crop specialist at the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte.

“Pretty much everything is in the ground now,” he said.

As the area braced for storms, it could seem contradictory to be thinking about the impact of drought. Despite some rain in the past weeks, the impacts of the drought are still being felt.

Last week, state conservationist Craig Derickson announced the Natural Resources Conservation Service has help available for farmers and ranchers in southwest Nebraska who have been hit hard by drought. Producers have until June 20 to apply for assistance through the Drought Recovery Initiative.

“The prolonged lack of rainfall in southwest Nebraska has resulted in a dramatic reduction in available forage for livestock producers and increased the risk of soil erosion on land without sufficient ground cover,” Derickson said in a press release. “The purpose of this initiative is to offer assistance to producers and operators impacted by the drought.”

Drought has affected the area in lots of different ways, Kruger said.

“It has affected decision management practices,” he said. “People had to decide whether to rotate corn into a field or hold off this year. Management practices in terms of weed control were also impacted by the dry conditions.”

The corn growing season is off to a fairly good start, despite the late freeze that slowed plants already breaking the ground, he said.

But the big unknown this year and every year is the weather.

“In the last week or so, we have gotten some rain and nice warm weather, so things have moved fast,” Kruger said.

A big concern to farmers is the high risk of crop failure because of the lack of subsoil moisture, he said.

“We haven’t had enough rain to completely replenish,” he said. “Irrigated acres are not quite as dry, of course, but the drought certainly has had an impact on irrigators. If it is really dry, they have to run irrigation more to keep up with the demand of the plants.”

Drought Recovery Initiative assistance is available for land where any portion of the county has been designated as extreme or exceptional drought zone, according to the U.S. Drought monitor map as of May 20, 2014. In Nebraska, that includes the counties of Keith, Perkins, Chase, Dundy, Hitchcock, Hayes, Lincoln, Frontier and Red Willow.

Farmers and ranchers may apply for assistance to install conservation practices that can help reduce the impact of the current drought, Derickson said. The changes will help improve the sustainability of the operation in the long term.

Among the practices available through the Drought Recovery Initiative are cover crops, critical area planning, fence, forage and biomass planting, pipeline, well and pumping stations for livestock water, range planting and more.

“When implemented, these conservation practices will provide additional forage, improve existing forage and help increase ground cover,” Derickson said.

Interested producers may visit the local NRCS field office to learn more about the assistance available. Information about the Drought Recovery Initiative and other natural resource programs is available at www.ne.nres.usda.gov.

Information on the locations of NRCS field offices can be found at http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app.

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