Agricultural Economics Department


First Advisor

Jay Parsons

Date of this Version



Cumming, K. 2019. Examining the Capacity of Nebraska Rangelands for Cattle Production and Drought Management Strategies. University of Nebraska- Lincoln Department of Agricultural Economics.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of a Master of Science, Major: Agricultural Economics, Under the Supervision of Professor Jay Parsons. Lincoln, Nebraska: April, 2019

Copyright (c) Kaitlyn Cumming 2019


This thesis has two chapters focusing on the grazing capacity of Nebraska rangelands, and drought management strategies. The first chapter conducts a gap analysis comparing forage supplied by perennial grasslands to the animal unit months (AUMs) required by the cattle. The purpose of this research was to quantify potential AUM supply (i.e., carrying capacity) of grazing lands dominated by perennial grasses on a regional basis in Nebraska to the AUM demand based on cattle inventories and standard production practices in each region of Nebraska. The results suggest that Nebraska is operating at 100% of potential carrying capacity. Harvest efficiency for Nebraska is higher then what is found in this research, due to the overestimation of forage production by using potential grazing acres and potential forage production.

The second chapter of this thesis evaluates drought management strategies for a sample ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills from 2001 to 2017. The drought management strategies evaluated included feeding hay (base case), early weaning the calves at 150 days old and selling them (strategy A), and three strategies which are combined with strategy A: PRF insurance during the growing season (strategy B), PRF insurance spread evenly throughout the year (strategy C) and feeding early weaned calves hay until 210 days old combined with LRP insurance (strategy D). The results of this research are that strategy C is the least risky and most profitable strategy on average over the 17 years. Even though strategy B is more profitable during drought years, the decision to purchase PRF insurance is required by November 15 of the prior year. You would not know if there is going to be a drought at that time. Results on using LRP insurance were inconclusive, as available LRP data was restricted to seven years total, and only one drought year. More extensive analysis and more data would be needed to decide if LRP should be combined with PRF insurance and/or hay feeding to form a drought management strategy.

Advisor: Jay Parsons