[This topic was previously posted May 2020 from the Southern Plains Perspective - you can reach other blog posts here.]
The weather can be crazy in the great plains and with the changing climate, it just keeps getting crazier. For farmers and ranchers, any tool that we can utilize to help us get some idea of what mother nature has in store is extremely helpful. That’s why I would like to offer up for your consideration a tool that can give you at least some insight on future grassland conditions.
“Grass-Cast” is an innovative grasslands productivity forecast tool that is the result of a collaboration between the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS); the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC); Colorado State University and the University of Arizona. It uses over 30 years of historical data about weather and vegetation growth—combined with seasonal precipitation forecasts—to predict if rangelands in individual counties are likely to produce above-normal, near-normal, or below-normal amounts of vegetation for grazing.
The Grass-Cast forecasts are updated every two weeks to incorporate newly observed weather data and emerging trends in grazing conditions. It also provides ranchers with a view of rangeland productivity in the broader region to assist in larger-scale decision-making and to determine where grazing resources might be more plentiful if their own region is at risk from drought.
Grass-Cast is experimental and doesn’t include all factors such as soil types or types of vegetation, so producers shouldn’t rely on it as a sole source for making management decisions, but it does give you a partial snapshot of future grazing conditions based on weather outlooks and historical grazing conditions. Grass-Cast also doesn’t cover all areas of the country, but if you raise livestock in Montana, the Dakotas, eastern Wyoming, western Nebraska, western Kansas, eastern Colorado, western Oklahoma, eastern New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, and north-central Texas, we think this is a tool worth looking into.
If you want to know more about Grass-Cast you can check it out at https://grasscast.unl.edu/ or you can go to the USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub website at https://www.climatehubs.usda.gov/hubs/northern-plains/tools/grass-cast-grassland-productivity-forecast for more information.