Drought, dry conditions impacting Nebraska ranchers

Drought and dry conditions are impacting 100% of the land in Nebraska.
Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 6:41 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - A lack of rain, hot temperatures and other drought conditions show little improvement across Nebraska. Right now, 100% of the state is in at least abnormally dry condition.

For one of the state’s top earners, agriculture, this drought spells economic issues and could create even bigger problems later on.

The Chris Vinton Ranch Company in Whitman has been ranching outside of the Whitman area since the late 1800′s. Like many in agriculture, the Vintons have a drought plan.

Sherry Vinton looked at reports and together with her husband, decided they needed to cut down on their herd.

“In May, we made the decision to tighten up our breeding season,” Vinton said.

Breeding season was cut down to 45 days in an effort to limit the number of calves born. Vinton estimates that is about a 20% reduction in their breeding.

The cow-calf operation also sold about 300 cows, when they like to operate at about 1,000. Some calves were weaned early to get them to market.

“We’re starting those early cuts there and the calves are going much earlier, months earlier than normal at lighter weights. So that also cuts into your income, because we’re in a business where pounds pay,” Vinton said. “Anything that reduces the number of pounds you’re selling, reduces your income. You’re in a situation where you’re selling fewer pounds, and you’re spending more money on your inputs, on hay and feed.”

In a business where pounds pay, a drop in feed production creates obvious problems. Dry weather has impacted farmers across the state, especially those who don’t use irrigation systems.

“There wasn’t a great deal of soil moisture available for those crops to get going, which is why we needed rain, why we’re seeing the drought conditions,” Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with UNL said. “We’re in the same boat again this year.”

The Nebraska Farm Bureau estimates dryland producers will take the biggest hit.

“Dryland producers are the ones who don’t have and don’t utilize irrigation. They’re the ones that are going to see the largest yield impacts,” Jordan Dux, the Senior Director of National Affairs with the Nebraska Farm Bureau said. “At the same time, if you’re going to irrigate, you’re going to have to pay to pump the water. And so where diesel prices have been or even electric. If you’ve moved over to electric pivots, that’s obviously a cost saver, but certainly it’s not free to pump water either.”

Fuchs said the dry spell has been going on for over a year and has only seen conditions worsen. For farmers and ranchers, like the Vintons, it can feel like they are at the whim of the weather and the markets.

“This year the margins will be very, very tight,” Vinton said. “It’s difficult to see cows that you’ve put a lifetime into developing those genetics. You don’t want to see those go, that’s a last resort.”