Even though 94 percent of Texas remains in a situation considered “abnormally dry,” 59 percent of the state in severe drought and almost 30 percent in the “extreme” category, a Texas AgriLife Extension forage specialist predicts “it will rain again.”

But not soon, says Vanessa Corriher-Olson, Texas AgriLife Extension specialist who is based in Overton. “El Nino has failed and La Nina is back. Winter is expected to be drier and warmer than normal.”

Those conditions are expected to persist through February, Corriher-Olson said during the annual Ag Technology Conference on the Texas A&M-Commerce campus. “In East Texas, February is usually the wettest part of the winter. That’s not expected this year.”

Still, she said, ranchers should be prepared to renovate pastures, hay fields and meadows that have been ravaged by two years of devastating drought and, in some cases, over-grazing or aggressive haying.

The temptation was understandable as cattlemen weighed the options of stretching grass as far as possible to prevent, or delay, liquidating herds. Now, many are waiting on a “drought-ending rain” to start rebuilding forage production.

“We need an inch and-a-half of rain just to initiate seed germination,” she said. “We need from 5 inches to 6 inches of rainfall to produce adequate forage for grazing. Hit and miss rain will not be enough.”

Under normal conditions, East Texas has adequate rainfall to maintain forage production. “Now is not normal.”

Forages have been hurt by long-term drought. “It’s what you don’t see that makes the difference,” she said. “The root system is crucial. But most management decisions are made based on what producers can see. If grass is growing, they cut more or graze more. That reduces top growth and pulls from the root system.

“Every time producers continue to graze or cut (drought-stressed grass) the roots die back a little more. In many cases, grass over-grazed will not survive a drought and may not survive even an abnormally dry period.”

She said a healthy plant requires a strong root system and an opportunity to rest to persist from year to year. “If producers spend money on fertilizer, they should make sure the plant is able to utilize the nutrients.”