Cattle industry woes not improving
For some Arkansas ranchers, it's the autumn of "no."
"No rain. No snow. No grass. No hay," said Mike McClintock, Boone County Extension agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. "If most of them put a pencil to what they have spent, they would sell out. It's just plain tough on them."
One mitigating factor has been the relatively mild temperatures, said Don Hubbell, director of the Livestock and Forestry Station in Batesville. Cold weather means the cattle need more calories to stay warm.
"The warmer weather is helping with the energy needs, but like always, as soon as it gets another 10 degrees colder it will double hay feeding for most herds," he said.
Cattle producers had been pinning their hopes to a moist autumn to breathe life into the last of the summer's bermudagrass and kick-start cool-season grasses and other fall and winter forages, including plants in the brassica family such as turnips.
However, the Nov. 20 U.S. Drought Monitor map showed more than 81 percent of the state in drought.
"Due to dry weather and frosts, forage growth has basically stalled," said John Jennings, professor-forages for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. "Some that planted annuals and brassicas early and protected the forage from armyworms have fall growth to graze now."
"Hay availability is still a problem--or transportation cost from areas having hay is really the problem," he said.
Jennings said many producers are still asking about planting ryegrass, but this late in the season "the only seed still available is Gulf ryegrass and its cold tolerance is too low for a reliable establishment planted this late except in far south Arkansas."
In south Arkansas, "we sure need some significant rain down here," said Jerri Lephiew. Columbia County Extension agent. "We've had a lot of minor tenths-of-inches showers and...it is really concerning that our rainfall is so slight going into December."
Lephiew said she's advised producers to hang on to any hay they produced in late July and August, but they are "eager to sell. They are going to need that hay if something doesn't change."
In Little River County, there was a slightly more optimistic picture.
"We had a good spring and early summer, most producers put up enough hay to make (it through) this winter," said Little River County Extension Staff Chair Joe Paul Stuart. "Also, producers culled last year due to the drought, so we don't have near as many cattle to feed as normal."
The other concern is soil moisture and surface water. "More rainfall is needed to wet the soil profile and fill ponds/creeks before spring or we will be in the same situation as last spring," Jennings said.
For more information about cattle production and the 300 Days Grazing program, visit www.uaex.edu, the brochure at http://www.aragriculture.org/forage_pasture/grazing_program/grazing_program_booklet.pdf or contact your county extension agent.