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News Release

Spring Rains and Grass Production Status Could be Misleading for Livestock Producers

Colette Kessler, State Public Affairs Officer
(605) 220-1765

Schooley Grassland Photo with Cattle

Spring Rains and Grass Production Status Could be Misleading for Livestock Producers

NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE (NRCS), Huron, S.D., May 16, 2018–Looking across South Dakota’s working agricultural lands this spring, one will find an array of activity.  Planters, drills, fertilizer spreaders, and sprayers are hard at work. For South Dakota’s producers with livestock, spring means fences will be mended, pairs rounded up, spring veterinary care given, fresh brands on calves, and livestock will be moved to summer pastures.

As the gates to this year’s grazing lands are opened, it is important to not only assess the current amount of grass available, but also reflect upon last year’s grazing. For assessing drought effects across South Dakota, NRCS has a unique tool readily available that is refreshed every Monday. It is not the national Drought Monitor, but rather a “Drought Tool” that is available to anyone with access to the internet. South Dakota NRCS Rangeland Management Specialists developed this tool based on historical precipitation and local resource information to help land managers see the effects that current weather patterns may be having on their grazing lands.

Schooley Grassland Photo with Cattle














One quick look at NRCS’ Drought Tool and it is easy to see South Dakota is not out of the woods from the effects of previous year’s drought. How grazing lands are managed during times of drought not only dictates the bottom line for profit or loss on a livestock enterprise for the time the drought is active, but also can affect productivity and profitability years into the future.













Map shows September 26, 2017 Drought Status.
Management During Drought Affects Grasslands Production for Years
September 26, 2017 Image:




Grassland management in the years following a drought can be misleading and challenging. If the spring starts with ample rain the year following a drought, livestock producers can easily fall into the pattern of stocking pastures as if there is adequate moisture. Unfortunately it often takes South Dakota’s grasslands longer than one season to recover from the effects of a drought.

Free Help

Getting assistance from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office in creating a grazing plan revolving around pasture’s current conditions and taking into account the previous year’s drought is a good place for producers to start when planning for harvesting forage through livestock or haying. Working with NRCS specialists gives producers insight from the “Drought Tool” as well as assistance in “ground truthing” the information on the producer’s specific operation and grazing lands. This free, one-on-one personal advice makes for a much more accurate plan. The NRCS also has available a list of local producers who are willing to share grazing practices they have to found to positively affect their bottom line and the soil health of their grazing lands.

Why Does This Matter?

Grazing lands are not getting any cheaper to rent nor is there a great deal available in good condition after last year’s drought. Regardless of the size of the grassland parcel, if a producer is working with a financial institution or lender to finance parts of their livestock enterprise, encourage them to use knowledge from local NRCS professionals to understand the lingering effects of drought and proper drought mitigation. Ag producers and lenders can use USDA’s NRCS technical service at no charge to better understand the realities about the profits that can be attained in a livestock enterprise in the years following a drought.