Life is a lot simpler for area livestock producers when they have adequate fall pastures. But conditions this fall are far from ideal across the region and not nearly as favorable as a year ago.
In North Dakota, "conditions deteriorate as you move west. The eastern third of the state is better off, but as you go west it gets drier," said Julie Schaff Ellingson, executive vice president of North Dakota Stockmen's Association.
Fall pastures provide livestock with grass to eat late in the growing season, and ranchers typically set aside certain pastures for grazing in the fall. The more fall grazing that's available — and the longer it's available — reduces the amount of hay or other feed that producers need to provide to their animals, which is especially important when hay is in short supply, as it is for many ranchers this year.
Alternatives to feeding hay can include early weaning, buying feed, turning to cover crops and, in the worst case, selling some of the herd, she said.
The weekly crop progress report, reflecting conditions on Sept. 13, and released Sept. 14 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found generally fair to very poor range and pasture conditions in most the Upper Midwest. Dry conditions in much of the region, as well as excess moisture in a few areas, cut into range and pasture quality.
The exception was Minnesota, where 59% was in good or excellent condition, 32% fair and 9% poor or very poor on Sept. 13, comparable to conditions a year earlier.
North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, where 2020 weather wasn't as cooperative as it was in much of Minnesota, weren't so fortunate.
South Dakota range and pasture was rated 30% good or excellent, 44% fair and 26% poor or very poor on Sept. 13. A year earlier, 75% was rated good or excellent, 19% fair and 6% poor or very poor.
In Montana, 21% was in good or excellent condition on Sept. 13, with 31% fair and 48% poor or very poor. A year earlier, 59% was rated good or excellent, 32% fair and 9% poor or very poor.
In North Dakota, 25% range and pasture was rated good or excellent, 43% fair and 32% poor or very poor on Sept. 13. A year earlier, in contrast, 72% was rated good or excellent, 19% fair and 9% poor or very poor.
Unusually high temperatures in late August further stressed grass in pastures already hurt by limited summer rains. On the other hand, some hard-pressed areas received rain around Labor Day, which helped. More fall rains could provide additional help, she said.
Less-than-ideal range and pasture conditions are nothing new to cattle producers in the state, who have overcome many challenges in the past," Ellingson said.
"They're a resilient group,' she said.
Here's a look at what the weekly crop progress report found for spring wheat, corn and soybeans, the region's three major crops. All numbers are for Sept. 13.
Montana — 92% was harvested, compared with the five-year average of 88%.
Minnesota — 97% was combined, combined with the five-year average of 87%.
North Dakota — 90% was harvested, down from the five-year average of 91%.
South Dakota — 98% was combined, down from the five-year average of 96%.
Iowa — 42% was rated good or excellent, 31% fair and 27% poor or very poor.
North Dakota — 57% was in good or excellent condition, 27% fair and 16% poor or very poor.
South Dakota — 68% is in good or excellent shape, 22% fair and 10% poor or very poor.
Minnesota — 76% was rated good or excellent, 18% fair and 6% poor or very poor.
North Dakota — 53% was in good or excellent shape, 30% fair and 18% poor or very poor.
South Dakota — 64% was rated good or excellent, 25% fair and 11% poor or very poor.
Minnesota — 77% was in good or excellent condition, 18% fair and 5% poor or very poor.
Iowa — 48% was rated good or excellent, 32% fair and 20% poor or very poor.