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Data Extent

Grass-Cast Database - Data on aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), climate data, NDVI, and cattle weight gain for Western U.S. rangelands

Grass-Cast: Experimental Grassland Productivity Forecast for the Great Plains

Grass-Cast uses almost 40 years of historical data on weather and vegetation growth in order to project grassland productivity in the Western U.S. More details on the projection model and method can be found at https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ecs2.3280.

Every spring, ranchers in the drought‐prone U.S. Great Plains face the same difficult challenge—trying to estimate how much forage will be available for livestock to graze during the upcoming summer grazing season. To reduce this uncertainty in predicting forage availability, we developed an innovative new grassland productivity forecast system, named Grass‐Cast, to provide science‐informed estimates of growing season aboveground net primary production (ANPP). Grass‐Cast uses over 30 yr of historical data including weather and the satellite‐derived normalized vegetation difference index (NDVI)—combined with ecosystem modeling and seasonal precipitation forecasts—to predict if rangelands in individual counties are likely to produce below‐normal, near‐normal, or above‐normal amounts of grass biomass (lbs/ac). Grass‐Cast also provides a view of rangeland productivity in the broader region, to assist in larger‐scale decision‐making—such as where forage resources for grazing might be more plentiful if a rancher’s own region is at risk of drought. Grass‐Cast is updated approximately every two weeks from April through July. Each Grass‐Cast forecast provides three scenarios of ANPP for the upcoming growing season based on different precipitation outlooks. Near real‐time 8‐d NDVI can be used to supplement Grass‐Cast in predicting cumulative growing season NDVI and ANPP starting in mid‐April for the Southern Great Plains and mid‐May to early June for the Central and Northern Great Plains. Here, we present the scientific basis and methods for Grass‐Cast along with the county‐level production forecasts from 2017 and 2018 for ten states in the U.S. Great Plains. The correlation between early growing season forecasts and the end‐of‐growing season ANPP estimate is >50% by late May or early June. In a retrospective evaluation, we compared Grass‐Cast end‐of‐growing season ANPP results to an independent dataset and found that the two agreed 69% of the time over a 20‐yr period. Although some predictive tools exist for forecasting upcoming growing season conditions, none predict actual productivity for the entire Great Plains. The Grass‐Cast system could be adapted to predict grassland ANPP outside of the Great Plains or to predict perennial biofuel grass production.

This new experimental grassland forecast is the result of a collaboration between Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Drought Mitigation Center, and the University of Arizona. Funding for this project was provided by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Watch for updates on the Grass-Cast website or on Twitter (@PeckAgEc). Project Contact: Dannele Peck, Director of the USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub, at dannele.peck@ars.usda.gov or 970-744-9043.

Release Date
Spatial / Geographical Coverage Area
POINT (-104.46 40.49)
POINT (-104.54 41.11)
POINT (-104.902 33.85)
POINT (-105.04 32.49)
POINT (-104.7 34.43)
POINT (-99.659 42.26)
POINT (-101.43 42.07)
POINT (-101.74 43.93)
POINT (-96.563 39.079)
POINT (-105.78 32.57)
POINT (-106.88 34.35)
POINT (-116.758 43.22)
Ag Data Commons
Spatial / Geographical Coverage Location
Western U.S. Rangelands
Temporal Coverage
January 1, 1939 to December 31, 2018
Contact Name
Dorich, Chris
Contact Email
Public Access Level
Program Code
005:040 - Department of Agriculture - National Research
Bureau Code
005:18 - Agricultural Research Service
005:53 - Natural Resources Conservation Service