“We’re actually cutting hay. The bermudagrass has exploded in the last couple of weeks.” So says an Extension agent from a state hit hard by drought all summer but finally enjoying ground-soaking rains.

Mike McClintock, Boone County Extension agent for the University of Arkansas, says between 2.5” and 4” of rain fell in the last few weeks in his part of Arkansas. Even so, there’s uncertainty of what 2013 will bring.

This is only the second cutting of the year for most Arkansas hay growers; first cutting brought only half the yield Boone County growers normally get. The good news – cool temperatures have also slowed down fall armyworms eating newly sprouted grass.

The Oct. 2 Drought Monitor map showed drought still covering nearly the entire state, but the deepest drought, “exceptional,” remained at just about 9%. “When you get back to ‘kind of normal,’ it’s nice,” says McClintock, whose county is still in the exceptional drought area.

Rain is still needed, he adds. “The subsoil moisture still isn’t where it should be. We need a lot of rain and some snow this winter. But it’s comforting to know that the landscape can look green and that the sky can actually rain.”

Yet McClintock has seen the forecast for a weaker El Niño this winter, which would mean less rain for Arkansas. “I hope they’re wrong. I’m not sure if beef cattle production in Boone County could survive another year like this. The ranchers have tapped their finances to the point of no return.”

A University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture study found that drought this year cost the cattle industry in Arkansas $128 million in direct losses. See “Estimate of the Economic Impact of Drought on Commercial Beef Cow/Calf Operations in Arkansas” and “Economic Impact of Cow-Calf Sector Income Losses in Arkansas due to the 2012 Drought.”

Ranchers who used intensive rotation and managed rotation of their forages had grass longer during the drought and were grazing three to four weeks earlier when the drought broke in September.