Following Drought, Nebraska Ranchers Expect Big Things


Beefing up the Beef State, Nebraska cattle producers are increasing cattle numbers.

"Cattle industry's doing good, got good prices there," Lyle Nunnenkamp of Sutton said.

Corn has been king the last few years in Nebraska, but cattle will be Nunnenkamp's money maker in 2014.

He said, "We get out of this drought and grass gets going better, I think everybody's in the mode to want to increase numbers."

Herds were decimated by the flash drought that began in 2012. Pasture land dried up and many cattlemen sold off big numbers.

The situation has improved, but remains a concern.

Dr. Terry Volesky, range specialist with the University of Nebraska said, "Some careful management is definitely going to be required."

If producers rotate pasture land, he encourages them not to use the same land at the same time each year. And coming out of drought, he has seen more weeds on pasture land.

With corn prices plummeting, and profits returning on the cattle side, Dr. Terry Klopfenstein said some land that had been turned into corn acres may be converted back to pasture.

He said, "This is going to be interesting to see how this plays out. The opportunities are great, opportunities are better for those that have already gotten into the cow business because it's expensive to get in now."

At the Cow–Calf College near Clay Center, University of Nebraska experts encouraged producers to forage cattle on corn stalks.

That works well for small, diversified farms, but not big Sandhills ranchers.

Klopfenstein, an animal science professor said, "I've not been able to convince corn farmers to move their fields to the Sandhills for stalk grazing in the winter, so it's moving cattle maybe farther than the rancher wants to care for the cows."

Still, he said it's a good option ranchers should consider.

From Lyle Nunnenkamp's farm in Sutton to John Hanson's in Lexington, they're watching costs on corn closely, but these farmers are glad to be making money from their cattle.

Hanson, a diversified corn and cattle farmer said, "It should be that way the next two, three years hopefully, we'll see what happens after that."