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Working Together Through the Drought

August 20, 2012

By Gov. Dave Heineman

Dear Fellow Nebraskans:

Every Nebraskan is impacted in some way by this summer's drought. From the brown lawns and watering restrictions to the drought-related wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres of land, the hot and dry weather has impacted all citizens and areas of our State.

Some of the most immediate and profound impacts are on our farmers and ranchers. The extreme drought conditions have shriveled crops and forages, dried up livestock ponds, increased irrigation pumping expenses, and contributed to increased feed costs for livestock producers.

Even with all these negative impacts, Nebraska farmers and ranchers are still in better shape than producers in other states because of our irrigation resources. Agriculture research helps us understand how alternative feeds can be used in livestock diets. If farmers and ranchers work together, we can take advantage of crop residues from crops like corn and soybeans to stretch limited forages even further during the drought.

Our farmers and livestock owners can benefit from crop residue usage. An example is the research conducted by University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Terry Klopfenstein that has shown grazing corn residue can result in an important bump in yields the following year. In particular, this research shows that irrigated and no-till fields benefit from this type of grazing.

There are other important points to consider in the current drought. Grazing corn residue, instead of conducting fall tillage, conserves soil moisture and reduces erosion. Grazing cattle works the residue into the soil without exposing tilled soil to the air.

Along with increased yields and reduced erosion, the cash rents provide an additional incentive to open fields to grazing cattle, and not tilling will save fuel costs. Another option is to bale cornstalks and stover. This will provide farmers with some additional income from their fields, while increasing the amount of forage available to our livestock producers. Ranchers across the state are utilizing a variety of different forages to sustain and maintain their cow herds through the drought.

There are a variety of resources available to help farmers and ranchers who are looking for, or trying to figure out how to use, different forages. General drought information is available at www.Nebraska.gov.

The Department of Agriculture has an agriculture-specific central resource site at www.droughtcentral.nebraska.gov. Included on this site is a link to the Department of Agriculture's Hay and Forage Hotline. The hotline is a way for buyers and sellers of available hay to connect. Nebraskans with cornstalks for grazing, or any type of forage, can place their listings through the hotline free of charge by calling 800-422-6692. Those looking for forage can access the database online at the link above, or can call the Department of Agriculture for more information.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln also has done a great job of pulling together practical information for farmers and ranchers dealing with the drought. These can be found at www.droughtresources.unl.edu, or by visiting the Department of Agriculture's Drought Central page.

With thin forage supplies and the prospect of below-average grain yields, I encourage farmers and ranchers to work together to make the most of our resources. By working together, neighbor helping neighbor, we can lessen the collective impact of this trying growing season.

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