Date of this Version



NF584 Published by Cooperative Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Copyright © 2003 University of Nebraska


Precipitation can be below average for much of the Nebraska Panhandle and adjoining areas for prolonged periods. Prolonged drought results in an inadequate supply of forage for hundreds of thousands of beef cattle on millions of acres of rangeland. While some variation occurs among ranches and among pastures within a given ranch, all rangeland vegetation in arid environments like western Nebraska can be moderately to severely damaged by drought stress and/or excessive grazing. Consequently, even if soil moisture is not limited in the years following a drought, spring growth rate will be reduced and total annual forage production can be 20 to 50 percent below average on millions of acres of rangeland. Growth of below-ground plant parts in grasses is proportional to the amount of top growth each year. Combinations of drought-limited plant growth and/or excessive livestock grazing have dramatically reduced root growth, levels of stored energy, and formation of buds needed for future-year tillers. In addition, the remaining plant cover is insufficient to keep rain water from evaporating or running off the soil surface. Reduced precipitation efficiency and reduced depth and total length of roots will make it impossible for most rangelands in the region to produce average levels of forage in the year following the drought even with above average precipitation.