When Bruce Anderson recently dug postholes, he noticed that the soil below 2’ was dry. That reminded him that the University of Nebraska Extension forage agronomist needs to take steps to limit forage shortages if the upcoming growing season turns droughty in his area.

“Those of you in other regions need to consider ways to minimize damages if rainfall is short,” says Anderson. “Just look to the south for evidence of how destructive a drought can be. Fortunately, if you take action early you can minimize some of drought’s problems.

For starters, he says to prepare a strategy for using leftover hay. One option is to feed hay a bit longer this spring before turning cows out to permanent pasture. Allowing pastures to accumulate more growth before grazing begins will provide more total forage if drought slows regrowth later. Leftover hay can also be used later during the grazing season to give pastures more time to recover between grazings.

Another strategy is planting drought-tolerant forages for pasture or hay. Summer-annual grasses like sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids and pearl millet are excellent choices, says Anderson. Wait until soils are warm before planting them, though – late May or early June usually is best in his area. Reserve some ground for one of these drought-insurance grasses, or doublecrop it into the stubble after wheat harvest.

“If the rains don’t come, planning and acting now to reduce potential forage losses from drought will pay big dividends,” says Anderson.