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Weather, management focus of Southeast Wyoming Beef convention

Most farmers and ranchers listen to the daily weather forecast before deciding what jobs to tackle for the day. Because of that relationship, the National Weather Service is constantly researching ways to provide producers with more accurate weather reporting.

"The mission of the National Weather Service is to provide weather, water, climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property, and the enhancement of the national economy," said Chad Hahn, senior forecaster with the National Weather Service at the Southeast Wyoming Beef Production convention in Torrington, Wyo. last week.

The National Weather Service was first established as the Weather Bureau in 1870 under the war department. In 1891, the department was transferred to the Department of Agriculture, and in 1970 became the National Weather Service. The government agency has 122 weather forecasting offices in the US, and a billion dollar annual budget.

"Over the years, we have worked hard to develop new technology to improve the accuracy of our weather forecasting," Hahn said. "Our long-range outlooks are even improving."

Hahn said 2016 was the fourth warmest year since 1985, and March through May 2016 was the 11th wettest in Wyoming, and the fourth wettest in Nebraska. El Nino and La Nina impacted food production, water quality and human health in most parts of the world. Hahn predicted a weak La Nina to continue from December through February, but said it's hard to predict what kind of precipitation the area will receive.

"Most of our snowfall precipitation in this area comes in March and April, and we don't have projections that far out yet," he said.

Hahn, along with Windy Kelly, regional extension program coordinator, and Chad McNutt, regional drought information systems coordinator, told producers the importance of supplying the weather information they need to make decisions.

"We work with extension to get information about when producers need to make these decisions," Kelly said.

The National Weather Service is in the process of developing an agriculture decision calendar that when combined with long-term forecasting, will help producers make production decisions related to how weather impacts crop-related decisions like diseases that may pop up.

Kelly said producers can also enroll in the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow program to help the agency collect data. Through the program, a rain gauge is supplied to producers which they install, then collect and report precipitation through a computer or smart phone.

"If your neighbor is also collecting data at the south end of your property 40 miles away, and he reports it the same day you do, you can compare precipitation for both areas," she said. "This program helps us improve forecasting in our office."

PRODUCERS NEED TO BE PROACTIVE IN CONTROLLING PRAIRIE DOGS

It doesn't take long for a few prairie dogs to turn into an uncontrol population, according to Jenna Meeks with the Goshen County Weed and Pest Department. Prairie dogs mate in February and March, pups are born in April and May and the average litter size is three to four. Although prairie dogs can live three to five years, Meeks said only half the pups born live past the first year mostly due to predation and disease. Despite that, the population continues to grow.

The prairie dog, which is related to the ground squirrel, has five species — black-tailed, Gunnison, White-tailed, Utah and Mexican. These pests survive by building a system of complex, extensive tunnels and family systems that can be three to 14 feet long.

Prairie dog control is important to cattle producers because an excessive number of prairie dogs can affect weight gains. Meeks said there is a dietary overlap of 60 percent in mid-grass prairie areas, and 64 percent in short grass prairie.

"Prairie dogs favor grass species like western wheat grass, buffalo grass, and grama grass," she said. "They can get all the water they need in the wintertime just by consuming these grasses."

The more prairie dogs allowed to populate an area, the more detriment it causes to pasture quality. Once areas are populated with prairie dogs, it can take the vegetation up to 20 years to recover, depending upon weed pressure, precipitation and erosion.

Based on production losses, Meeks feels prairie dog control is important. Producers can level and eradicate mounds, prevent overgrazing, move watering sites away from short grass areas, and reseed eradicated areas. However, they may also need to consider hunting, poisoning and baiting them to eradicate them, she said. ❖